Maccabi Tel Aviv came up short last night in Partizan Belgrade's stormy Pioneer Arena with a 74-71 loss. Jordan Farmar promised the fans he would try to say goodbye with a win in one of the most difficult venues in Europe, but just couldn't manage the trick.
No one expected an easy trip - Maccabi worked hard to beat the Serbs 70-66 in Yad Eliahu - but the prize, guaranteed progress to the next stage maybe even from the top spot, seemed enough to spur the players on. But the home fans put in a marvelous display which helped their team to an early 8-5 lead thanks to Nenad Pekovic, who, like Farmar, is due back in the U.S. when the NBA resumes on Xmas Day.
Richard Hendrix was on target for Maccabi, but the Serbs glided to a 17-9 lead. Lior Eliyahu helped Farmar to cut the lead to 21-17, but a Lucic three-pointer ended the first quarter with a 24-17 lead for the hosts. The second quarter began terribly for Maccabi, especially due Partizan's complete control of the rebounds, and ran to 29-17, then 32-19. Sofoklis Schortsanitis joined the game but cheaply gave the ball away, before redeeming himself with a difficult basket from within the paint. For some reason Partizan suddenly couldn't find the grit to score, and though Maccabi weren't at their best Schortsanitis helped the Israeli team cut the lead to 38-31. Another fast break finished by Farmar and an individual play by Yogev Ohayon helped Maccabi back into the game, and they trailed 37-39 at halftime.
The third quarter began as a comedy of errors, with almost two minutes gone before Pekovic managed to score. David Blatt took a time-out when his team went down 37-45. Finally, after more than four minutes, David Blu managed to score before Mila Macvan made it 48-41. Partizan seemed dull at this stage, but Maccabi seemed untypically disturbed by the crowd, and gave up too many turnovers before Tal Burstein scored four consecutive points to cut the lead to 48-45. Then Pekovic and Burstein began a shooting contest which ended the quarter with a 54-48 Partizan lead.
Lior Eliyahu opened the fourth quarter with two points, and while Partizan got their rhythm back Maccabi couldn't really get on top of the game. Macvan, who had a tremendous evening with 22 points, gave Partizan a 61-52 lead. The game really came to life with an impressive Macan three-pointer, swiftly answered by Devin Smith, but a Lucic two-pointer gave the Serbs a 70-64 lead one minute before time. Hendrix missed a crucial free throw and Pekovic drew an important foul, before a Guy Pnini three-pointer cut the lead to only 70-68, 20 seconds before time.
But then Pnini committed a flagrant foul, and there was no way back for Maccabi. Farmar also committed a foul and scored the last points of the game, but couldn't help Maccabi, who will have to beat Real in Madrid to secure top spot of group C.
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