Maccabi Tel Aviv took a major step toward the Top 16 of this year's Euroleague, thanks to a 79-72 road victory over Anadolu Efes in Turkey last night. The win was Maccabi's first away victory from its Yad Eliyahu fortress in this season's competition.
Despite a roster filled with star players, Efes - which has high hopes of making the Final Four, which will be played this season in Istanbul - trailed its Israeli visitors throughout most of last night's encounter.
Concerns over the safety of the Maccabi players and fans, given recent tensions between Jerusalem and Ankara, proved unfounded. The private security company hired to accompany Maccabi in Turkey, was left largely unemployed, with the home fans focusing on the game rather than any political tension.
Both teams' defenses were in control at the start of the game and, with two minutes on the clock, only a single basket from Stanko Barac separated the teams. Two accurate throws from Kerem Tunceri gave the home side a 6-1 lead and David Blatt's players looked to be foundering. With five minutes and 40 seconds left in the first quarter, Maccabi scored its first field goal of the evening, with Lior Eliyahu ending the mini-drought.
Five unanswered points from Jordan Farmar cut the Turks' lead to just two points (10-8 ), but Sasha Vujacic was given too much freedom and waltzed his way to a three-point offensive. Farmar drove well to the basket to score his seventh point of the game, cutting the deficit to a single point (13-12 ) and then Shawn James, on the back of an assist from Theodoros Papaloukas, gave Maccabi a one-point lead at the end of the first quarter (14-13 ).
The lead continued to change hands until the end of the second quarter, by which time Maccabi appeared to have found a way to stifle the Turkish forwards. Tal Burstein and Eliyahu both scored from inside the paint to open up a six-point gap (36-30 ) and it seemed that the momentum was swinging firmly Maccabi's way. But a three-pointer from Cenk Akyol and a basket from Esteban Batista brought Efes back into contention, before a slam dunk from James gave the Yellows a three-point lead at halftime.
The third quarter saw Maccabi keep the ever-dangerous Vujacic under control and two points from the foul line allowed the visitors to open up their biggest margin of the evening (49-42 ).
The start of the final quarter saw Yogev Ohayon drive to the basket and score the best basket of the night, but Efes clawed its way back into contention and, with two minutes and 50 seconds left to play, Maccabi's advantage was down to a single point (68-67 ).
With a little under two minutes to play, a three-pointer from Vujacic leveled the score at 70-70. Farmar scored two for Maccabi from the foul line, while Vujacic finally missed one and forced Tunceri into a technical foul for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Farmar sank the resulting throw, but Eliyahu them proceeded to lose the ball. Efes was unable to take advantage, however, and the Yellows held on for the win.
Farmar top-scored for the Yellows with 18 points, followed by Blu (15 points ).
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