"I've been coaching basketball for some 30 years, but it seems to me that there were several minutes today the likes of which have never been seen at Yad Elihau," Maccabi Tel Aviv's old-new coach Pini Gershon declared after his team's runaway victory over Malaga last night, highlighted by a magical two minutes at the end of the second quarter.
"He sees right through the other players," Malaga's acting coach Jesus Mulero, referring to Maccabi's Sharonas Jasikevicius, who weaved three brilliant passes to set up two three-pointers by Nikolai Vujcic and a basket by Marceo Baston - as well as adding two three-point shots himself for good measure, as if on the practice court.
Besides Jasikevicius, the current outlook is for cautious optimism. The 2003-2004 Maccabi Tel Aviv team does not excel at defense and, except for Derrick Sharp, no one can really guard one-on-one. This was evident in the 11 fouls Maccabi committed in the first quarter. Only Malaga's weak offense prevented Tel Aviv from falling behind at this stage.
Tal Burstein started strong, with six points in the opening quarter, but faded later on. Watching Vujcic, however, was pure pleasure, and it was not just his 32 points on 65 percent shooting from the field (13 of 20), and his eight rebounds. Vujcic, perhaps the best power forward in Europe, displays healthy logic inside the paint, even when those around him are losing their heads.
Maccabi, as expected, looked stronger than its Spanish opponent from the outset. Burstein and Anthony Parker led the team to a 16-5 lead after six minutes of play, but Malaga rallied to end the first quarter only three points down (20-17).
Then came the magical offensive attack in second quarter that put Maccabi 24 points up at the half (53-29). The crowd at Yad Eliahu was on its feet in hysteria.
Vujcic's hot hand continued in the third quarter, which ended 70-43. Maccabi opened the fourth quarter with seven unanswered points, but then Parker, and later Vujcic retired to the bench, allowing Malaga to recoup some ground and finish the game with a less lopsided score.
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