In the heavyweight battle of the week, Maccabi Tel Aviv pulled out its 18th straight win at Yad Eliahu Arena and claimed sole possession of first place in Group A with a 80-74 victory over Benetton Treviso. Both teams had already qualified for the Top 16 but this game was about bragging rights in the group. Maccabi (10-2) not only claimed those honors but also avenged their Week 5 loss in Treviso. Benetton (9-3) drops into a tie for second place with Olympiakos, but probably regrets more seeing big men Marcelo Nicola and Denis Marconato limp off the court with ankle injuries. The game was close through halftime, but without those two in the paint, Benetton didn't have the toughness to stop the Maccabi big men nor to get second chances when shots missed. Arriel McDonald's 20 point, Gur Shelef's 16 and Nate Huffman's 14 led the way for Maccabi while Tyus Edney led Benetton with 22 points, followed by Ricardo Pittis who had 19 and Bostjan Nachbar with 13.
The game started with poor shooting percentages on both sides and Benetton took a small 2-8 advantage after four minutes. Maccabi mixed up their defenses, using both man-to-man and a zone to try to stop the Greens' fastbreak, and they obtained their goal but at a price. Their offense in turn struggled against the stingy Benetton defense. The game caught fire in the last two minutes of the period when Marcelo Nicola scored two long distance shots for Benetton and Tal Burstein and Yoav Saffar drove to the rim for the Yellows. On a dunk by Riccardo Pittis, Benetton took a 10-point lead, 12-22. Bostjan Nachbar ended the period with a coast-to-coast drive and bucket which gave Benetton a nine-point lead at 16-25.
Maccabi began the second period with a full-court press and Massimo Bulleri found trouble beating it, so Mike D¿Antoni called a timeout to stop a 4-0 run by Maccabi. The timeout didn't help as the home team continued to run and after four minutes the Israelis took the lead at 28-27. They extended it it to 33-27 - a 17-2 run since the quarter had started - but then the tides turned against them as they couldn't stop a handful of fastbreaks by both Nachbar and Pittis. The game remained close for the rest of the period with alternating lead changes. Gur Shelef was unstoppable one-on-one against the Benetton forwards. Riccardo Pittis also played very well in the power forward spot scoring 16 points and distributing assists to his teammates from the post. Unfortunately for the Greens, Marcelo Nicola had to leave the game with a sprained ankle. Shelef floated in the final basket of the half to break the tie and give Maccabi a 45-43 advantage. Shelef led Maccabi in scoring with 12 points.
Maccabi came out of the lockers on fire and exploded for 9 straight points, led by the long-distance shooting of Arriel McDonald, to take a 52-43 lead. Ever-resilient Benetton managed to bounce back quickly on six consecutive points by Edney. The game then turned into a great defensive battle which shut down all opportunites for open shots. Benetton's attack ran into problems against Maccabi's well-executed zone. The Italians tried to contain Nate Huffmann with Denis Marconato while Nicola remained in the locker room, and were forced to rely on forward Jorge Garbajosa to contest him on offense. An incredible slam dunk alley-oop by Anthony Parker was the play of the period that finished with Maccabi leading 65-57 and Shelef the top scorer so far with 16 points.
D'Antoni sent out a pair of point guards, Bulleri and Edney, and Benetton made an immediate 0-7 run to pull all the way back to within a point, 65-64, on the scoreboard. But now it was McDonald's turn as he gave Maccabi a 72-64 lead with a three-point play. Maccabi dominated under the boards from that moment and controlled the game until the end with a slight advantage despite an incredible Edney, who finished as the game's high scorer with 22 points.
Thursday, January 31, 2002