Yellow-and-blue wins nail-biter in Belgrade

Despite squandering an 18-point gap in the 4th quarter, Maccabi TA improves to 5-2 to close in on Top 16.

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Sofoklis Schortsanitis 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Sofoklis Schortsanitis 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv once more made life difficult for itself, but it held on for a 78-76 victory at Red Star Belgrade on Thursday night to effectively secure its progress to the Euroleague Top 16.
After a tight first half, Maccabi opened an 18-point margin early in the fourth quarter, only to squander it completely. Red Star tied the game in the final minute, but fortunately for Maccabi the hosts missed their chance to take the lead and the yellow-and-blue improved to a 5-2 record, strengthening its hold on second place in Group D and all but guaranteeing a top-four finish and qualification for the next round with three regular season games to play.
“We needed this win to guarantee our progress and to keep alive our hopes of finishing in first place,” said Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt. “We played superbly for 35 minutes, but the last five minutes have given me plenty to talk about with my players.”
Sofoklis Schortsanitis recorded his best game of the season for Maccabi, scoring 22 points in 16 minutes, hitting 9-of-10 field goal attempts. Devin Smith added 11 points, with Guy Pnini (nine points) and Alex Tyus (eight points and seven rebounds), who had previously rarely featured this season, making significant contributions.
DeMarcus Nelson and Ivan Radenovic had 12 points each for Belgrade.
After coming out of nowhere to score 22 points in Maccabi’s BSL win over Hapoel Eilat on Monday, Pnini started in Belgrade, with Blatt having to reshuffle his lineup after Shawn James was ruled out with a back injury.
The Israeli guard, who had previously played a mere total of 10 minutes in the competition, made the most of the opportunity, contributing at both ends of the floor in 25 minutes on court.
However, the focal point of Maccabi’s offense was Sofo, who terrorized the Serbs under the basket. The Greek giant had 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the game, but Maccabi still found itself four-points down (22-18) after the opening quarter.
Belgrade scored the first two points of the second period to open a six-point advantage, but Tel Aviv would have the edge at the break (35-33).
Maccabi pulled ahead in the first five minutes of the second half, holding Red Star to just four points while scoring 17.
Tyus, whose 18 minutes of action on Thursday almost doubled his total in the campaign, capped the run midway through the quarter with two accurate free throws (52-37) and two more Sofo points at the start of the fourth frame increased the margin to a record 18 points (64-46).
But matters have rarely gone smoothly for Maccabi this season and Thursday was no different.
Radenovic’s tripe brought Belgrade within a single point (75- 74) with 1:25 remaining before Blake Schilb’s free throws tied the game at 76-76 with 14.3 seconds to go. Belgrade had a chance to win the game after David Blu hit just one of two shots from the charity stripe, but Nelson missed his short-range effort and Blu secured the nailbiting victory from the line.