Facing an experienced and stubborn rival, Maccabi Tel Aviv put on its best performance of the season last night, handily defeating Panathinaikos 97-75. As one of the referees said to Maccabi coach Pini Gershon during the game: "You plan the most beautiful basketball in Europe."
Due credit should be given to the Greek team's Serbian coach, Zeljko Obradovic. The resourceful coach managed to keep his team close to Maccabi during the first half, though he did get some assistance from the referees. Jaka Lakovic provided the only offensive strength, with Arriel McDonald showing little of the talent that once made him a crowd favorite at Yad Eliyahu. Unless he improves his level of play, it's doubtful he can lead the Greek champions to any significant results this season.
All this was of little concern to Maccabi. After all, it's no small feat to score 97 points against Panathinaikos. Six Tel Aviv players scored more than 10 points and Maccabi clearly dominated the boards (35 rebounds to 26 for Panathinaikos). Maccabi's advantage in assists (31-12) indicates the type of team Tel Aviv is fielding this season - a hustling and athletic squad whose members support each other.
Sarunas Jasikevicius scored 13 points, but the most impressive statistic was his 9 assists versus only one lost ball. With this kind of 9 to 1 ratio, Maccabi is unstoppable.
Maceo Baston also played an outstanding game, sinking 21 points (9 of 11 from the field), pulling down 10 rebounds and contributing 6 assists. Anthony Parker played effectively, chipping in 15 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
Tal Burstein demonstrated leadership when Maccabi was not at its best.
Maccabi opened the game with a series of passes from Parker to Baston, taking advantage of McDonald's lack of speed. After only 8 minutes, Baston (who scored 10 points in the first quarter), Vujcic and Sarunas had staked Maccabi to a 13-point lead (21-8). Lakovic then came in to replace McDonald and helped cut Maccabi's lead to 7 points (23-16) at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter was the weakest of the game for Maccabi. Parker committed his third foul after only 15 minutes, Lakovic hit three shots from behind the 3-point line and Panathinaikos closed the gap to 3 points at the half (45-42).
A technical foul called against Baston in the 27th minute fired up the crowd, as Pini Gershon began jumping up and down along the sidelines. Some great passes by Sarunas and Deon Thomas gave Maccabi a comfortable 13-point advantage (70-57) at the end of the third quarter.
The Greek squad simply ran out of steam in the final quarter and even coach Obradovic stopped shouting instructions to his players from the bench. Maccabi ran its lead to 23 points (94-71) en route to a convincing 97-75 victory that should boost the team's confidence in advance of tough upcoming matches against Zalgiris Kaunas and Skipper.
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