By Amy Samin
Marcus Brown, Carlos Arroyo, Omri Casspi, D’or Fischer and Yaniv Green opened the game for Maccabi, while Josh Childress, Lynn Greer, Georgios Printezis, Milos Teodosic and Nikola Vujcic comprised the starting five for Olympiacos.
Before the starting buzzer, all attention was focused on three important issues: first and most important was a show of support for our troops fighting in the Gaza Strip; the second was a tribute to Olympiacos, a warm thanks that the Greek club put politics aside and came to Israel to play in Thursday night’s game; and the third was the awarding of the Euroleague MVP for the month of December to Lior Eliyahu.
Maccabi opened strong and effective in the first quarter, and within three and a half minutes of the starting buzzer, had taken a 10 – 4 lead thanks in part to some dazzling plays by Arroyo that left the Greek defense bewildered.
Olympiacos remembered that they were in the game, too, after three-pointers by Childress and Printezis woke them up.
Points by Casspi and Brown protected Maccabi’s lead, and with four minutes remaining in the period Maccabi led 17 – 11.
In the closing minutes of the quarter, Maccabi head coach Pini Gershon elected to send Marcus Fizer (in his first Euroleague appearance of the season) and Lior Eliyahu into the game.
Fizer found himself playing opposite the intimidating Sofoklis Schortsanitis, but nothing much changed for the remainder of the period, and the quarter ended with Maccabi leading, 25 – 19.
Maccabi team captain Derrick Sharp and Theodoros Papaloukas exchanged three-pointers at the start of the second quarter, with the latter dominating his team’s offense and narrowing the gap to 30 – 27 after three minutes of play in the period.
Several excellent plays orchestrated by Arroyo yielded 5 points and an assist for 3 from Brown and helped get Maccabi back on track, but it was former Maccabi guard Yotam Halperin who kept the Greeks in the game with two three-pointers, putting the score at 38 – 33 with just over four minutes remaining in the half.
Tight defense and some excellent plays run by Arroyo gave Maccabi their first double digit lead of the game, 43 – 33, but the visitors wouldn’t give up, taking advantage of several turnovers by Maccabi to close the distance, 43 – 39 with a minute and a half remaining.
Another three-pointer by Halperin and points at the buzzer for Bourousis on the heels of another turnover by Maccabi, sent the teams to the locker room at halftime with the score 47 – 45, Maccabi.
Maccabi came back strong and expanded their lead at the start of the second half.
Maccabi’s offense ran smooth, with Fischer scoring emphatic dunks off of two alley-oop passes from his teammates, and Maccabi went up 58 – 45, three minutes into the third quarter.
A three-pointer by Arroyo brought Maccabi’s lead up to 14, but Maccabi started slowing down, giving Childress and company the chance to chip away at that lead, taking the score to 67 – 56 with two and a half minutes left in the quarter.
Excellent play by Eliyahu and Fischer in the paint protected Maccabi’s double digit lead until the end of the quarter.
Maccabi cleaned up the court, showing lots of energy and coordination, and finished the third period leading 74 – 61.
Maccabi lacked focus at the start of the fourth quarter, and Olympiacos took advantage, closing the lead to 76 – 66 two minutes into the period.
Maccabi quickly got back in the game, ratcheting up their intensity.
Eliyahu, who got off to a slow start in the game, starting showing his usual level of talent, and Maccabi’s lead grew to 84 – 69 with four and a half minutes remaining in the game.
With the clock ticking down, tension mounted on both sides.
Maccabi missed some free throws, and Olympiacos closed to within ten, 88 – 78 with a minute and a half left.
Then the Greek head coach, Panagiotis Giannakis, lost his cool over some calls by the referees. To make things worse for Olympiacos, Teodosic then fouled out of the game.
The coach’s protest turned out to be the breaking point for the visiting team, while Maccabi continued to play extremely well, going on to earn a crucial Euroleague victory, 96 – 83 over Olympiacos.
Maccabi: Arroyo 20 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds; Eliyahu 18 points, 8 rebounds; Fischer 15 points, 10 rebounds; Brown 15 points; Casspi 14 points; Burstein 4 points; Sharp 3 points; Simmons 3 points; Fizer 2 points.
Olympiacos: Childress 15 points; Halperin 14 points; Papaloukas 11 points; Bourousis 11 points; Teodosic and Printezis 6 points each; Schortsanitis and Vujcic 5 points each; Greer 4 points; Erceg 2 points.