A big fourth quarter from Esteban Batista lifted Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv to a 73-67 win over Efes Pilsen on Thursday night at Nokia Arena. The Group B clash was hyped as Efes Pilsen head coach David Blatt’s return to the arena to face his old team, but the Uruguayan center made the difference with 8 points in the last 10 minutes. Batista scored 6 in an 11-0 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and into the fourth as Maccabi fought back from a 46-55 deficit to improve to 2-1. Maccabi, playing without injured superstar center Nikola Vujcic, got 14 points in 17 minutes from Batista and Terence Morris had 11 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. The Israeli champs travel to face Unicaja next week. Efes, which dropped to 1-2, hosts Le Mans. Before the game, Maccabi honored Blatt for his achievements since leaving the club, but once the game started, it was all about winning. The game was close for almost the entire evening, with neither team ever holding a double-digit lead. But in the end, it was Batista and Morris who made the difference as Maccabi won its fifth straight home game. Lior Eliyahu added 13 points and Will Bynum posted 10 points and 5 assists for the winners. Andre Hutson led Efes with 21 points, but had only 3 in the second half. Drew Nicholas added 14 points and 6 assists, Kenny Gregory had 12 and Loren Woods finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds.
Efes Pilsen won the opening tip, but it was Maccabi that scored first when Marcus Fizer hit a fade-away foul-line jumper. Gregory matched him and Kerem Gonlum scored inside, but Fizer tied it inside. Nicholas three-point play kept the visitors ahead only for Eliyahu to step up for Maccabi with a spin move and then a slam to ignite the crowd. Hutson tied it at 11-11 and then Gregory silenced the crowd with a follow-up slam. But a Vonteego Cummings triple and a Will Bynum to Eliyahu alley-oop made it 16-13. The visitors took a timeout to regroup and soon after tied the score again on a Hutson baseline jumper. Maccabi captain Derrick Sharp’s next basket was also matched by Hutson, as the first period ended 18-18.
Terence Morris worked the offensive glass to get his first points as the second period began. The basket gave him confidence as he went inside for another score. On the other end, Fizer fouled Hutson and was called for a technical, allowing Hutson to tie the score with 4 free throws. Batista came off the bench to score his first Euroleague basket. Both teams went with three guard lineups, which didn’t result in a quicker game. Sharp’s triple put Maccabi up 5 and when Eliyahu soared in for a finger roll, Blatt took another timeout. Hutson ended Maccabi’s 7-0 run with two free throws and continued to play a role on both ends of the floor. Ermal Kuqo tied it at 29-29 and the teams traded baskets until Bynum put Maccabi up 36-35 with a free throw at the end of the first half.
Bynum’s pull-up jumper started Maccabi off in the third period and then set Batista up inside as the sell-out crowd got louder. Hutson missed a pair of shots and Eliyahu made it 41-35 from the line. Gregory beat the shot clock for Efes’s first points of the period and Loren Woods soon had the visitors within 1 after a three-point play. Nicholas then put Efes ahead with a runner and added to the lead with a jumper. Efes continued to move ahead as a powerful Woods slam capped a 1-9 run for the visitors for a 44-48 advantage. Maccabi tried Alex Garcia for answers, but it was Woods again with an offensive rebound and a bucket as Efes went up 6. Neither Maccabi’s timeout or Morris’s shot-blocking ability changed much as Scoonie Penn drilled a triple as the shot clock expired, which was like a dagger through the hearts of the home fans. Still Maccabi played on and free throws by Morris and a Yotam Halperin drive made it 50-55 heading into the fourth quarter.
Eliyahu made a free throw early in the period and Batista later twisted his way for a clutch layup as Maccabi closed the gap. As Efes started getting cold, Batista tied it and then put Maccabi up 57-55. Batista scored 6 straight during the 11-0 run that put the Israeli champs on top. Efes beared own and at the end of a long attack, which included two fouls drawn, Hutson tied it with a dunk. Batista continued to shine with a move past Woods for a hoop, but Nicholas bettered that with a triple. However Sharp also had a three up his sleeve as the game remained close. Bynum put Maccabi up 64-62 from the line, but Gonlum matched that with a basket in the paint. Eliyahu then put Maccabi up from the line, only this time an Efes turnover led to a Bynum jumper, a 4-point lead and a visiting team timeout. Penn’s drive met Morris’s right hand and a minute later Morris shined again with a clutch three-pointer that made it 71-65. Morris fouled out on the next play as Gregory brought his team within 4. Maccabi tried to milk the clock and Cummings eventually went to the line with 35 seconds remaining. His two foul shots seemed to seal the deal and any hope Efes had evaporated when Penn missed, leaving the hosts to celebrate a 73-67 win.
Thursday, November 8, 2007