Basketball: Maccabi TA Ices Italians to Advance

Maccabi Tel Aviv assured its advance to the Euroleague quarterfinal round with a convincing 97-82 home victory over Montepaschi Siena last night. The win leaves Tel Aviv atop Group F with a comfortable point difference of 19, far above second-place Real Madrid with just 5.

Coach Pini Gershon said at Wednesday's press conference that he didn't know which Maccabi would show up to play Siena - the good version or the bad. It turns out both were in attendance. In the first and third quarters Maccabi disappointed, but in the second and fourth it played virtually error-free basketball.

Gershon also predicted that the game would consist of one fast break after another, and he only hoped that the last run of the night belonged to his Maccabi squad.

He was right. Late in the fourth, Siena gave up a one-point lead and allowed the home team to score 22 points in just the last three minutes, and 43 over the entire fourth quarter.

Afterward the Italian squad's coach, Simone Pianigiani, appeared on the verge of tears, desperately following the Efes Pilsen-Real Madrid game in hope that the Turks could pull off a win and keep Siena alive. It didn't happen - Madrid won 77-75, ensuring that Maccabi would move into the Final 8 and Siena would go home.

Gershon and his assistant Sharon Drucker ran an airtight ship throughout the game, shrewdly calling timeouts whenever the visitors accumulated some momentum and taking smart calculated risks about which of their own players to play at key moments.

Point guard Doron Perkins got into foul trouble with eight minutes to go, and Andrew Wisniewski was brought in to take his place. Maccabi was trailing by three then, and the usually potent Alan Anderson had managed a meager 9 points.

As he has in many a close game this season, the "Wiz" from New York made sure Maccabi's key players stepped up. A clutch three-pointer from David Bluthenthal with 40 seconds to go put Maccabi up 88-80, and the squad never looked back.

"It wasn't a game that looked like it was won by 15 points," Gershon said afterward. "In the last quarter we played like we always should. We made mistakes, but a minimal amount. What more could you ask for?"

Anderson finished with a game-high 24 points, and Chuck Eidson put on another solid showing with 16.

Henry Domercant, a Chicago-bred guard who plays internationally for Bosnia-Herzegovina, led Siena with 21.

Maccabi visits Real Madrid on Thursday in its final Top 16 contest.