Basketball / Euroleague Top 16 / Maccabi Tel Aviv on the Ropes After 75-63 Loss in Game 2

European campaign could end Tuesday if Real Madrid wins.

Maccabi Tel Aviv failed to make a dent in Real Madrid’s march toward the Final Four on Friday in the teams’ second game in their round-of-16 series. Having obliterated Maccabi 79-53 in the opening game, Madrid held the lead throughout a one-sided encounter that ended 75-63.

A week into the quarterfinal series, Maccabi now knows what a tough opponent Real Madrid is, having twice been beaten by double figures. Before Friday’s encounter the talk was about a comeback in the second game, but instead history was made. For the first time since the local league’s playoff series against Maccabi Ra’anana in the 2000-2001 season, the Yellows lost the second game of a best-of-five series. In the 17 playoff series since, Maccabi has lost 10 games − but none of them were the second game of a five-game series.

In fact, this is the first time in the 40 best-of-five series Maccabi has played throughout its history that the team finds itself 2-0 behind. A comeback at this stage seems highly unlikely.

The second-game syndrome, 48 hours after the first game, actually worked slightly in Maccabi’s favor. Apart from the disastrous opening minutes, the team played slightly better than in the opening game. Real admittedly took its foot off the gas but still coasted to a 12-point victory.

Maccabi’s players turned up for the game as individuals. David Logan came off the bench and scored 15 excellent points in the first half, but the rest of the team added a paltry 13 points between them in that time. Ricky Hickman and Shawn James only really got into the game toward the end of the third quarter, while Nik Caner-Medley played a solid game. Only a few weeks ago, when the team was playing well in the second round of the Top 16 games, Caner-Medley found it hard to pick up the tempo − yet now, with the team losing form, the pressure is off him and he is producing some fine moves.

The other Maccabi players were simply poor. Nothing went right for Devin Smith on his 30th birthday, and he managed just one basket from 10 attempts. Yogev Ohayon, who made such a remarkable breakthrough in last season’s series against Panathinaikos, has been on the retreat against Real − zero points in the second game, and only four in the first. Lior Eliyahu came off the bench as early as the fourth minute, yet failed to make any impression and scored only once from five attempts. Darko Planinic was particularly poor and every minute he spent on the parquet meant damage to Maccabi.

Not that Real displayed teamwork − but it has players who win games. Sergio Llull found himself free to throw three-pointers almost at will and registered 26 points, his highest ever Euroleague points tally.

When Maccabi narrowed the gap to six points midway through the third quarter, Real’s Jaycee Carroll simply decimated Maccabi’s defense with one basket after another, as if he was throwing on automatic pilot. Maccabi also failed to take advantage of a particularly weak performance by Rudy Fernandez.

Now the series will move to Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Real will be looking to reach the Final Four with a 3-0 whitewash, while Maccabi hopes that its fans, on Independence Day, will rally behind the players and at least help them extend the series by one more game to Thursday − but the gap between the teams looks too big for such a scenario.

Dimitris Diamantidis scored a huge three-pointer in the dying seconds for Panathinaikos to snatch a precious 66-65 away win over Euroleague favorite Barcelona on Thursday and tie the best-of-five quarterfinal at 1-1, with the series now coming for two games to Athens.

The Greens felt hard done by in Game 1 of the series two days earlier, when they lost to the Catalans in overtime, but this time luck was on their side and their second superb performance was crowned with victory in Spain.

The game could have gone either way, as Panathinaikos advanced 19-11 at the start of the second period but Barcelona bounced back to lead 40-27 in the third

AFP