Reigning champion Maccabi Tel Aviv began up its title defense with a strong 75-102 road win in Group B over Zalgiris in the opening game of the 2004-05 Euroleague in Kaunas, Lithuania on Monday night. Maccabi started the way it finished last season, with confidence and resourcefullness, getting ahead early and never letting Zalgiris up for air. The absence of Zalgiris center Arvydas Sabonis was evident in the way the Maccabi big men dominated. A new face among the champs, Yaniv Green, led Maccabi with 24 points, while starter Nikola Vujcic was right behind him with 21. Anthony Parker posted 19 for the winners, Derrick Sharp added 15 and Sarunas Jasikevicius added 10. Zalgiris stayed within as little as three points midway through the third quarter before smooth-shooting Anthony Parker, who finished with 19 points, shut the door on the home crowd's hopes. Zalgiris was led by Tanoka Beard and Mindaugas Timinskas with 17 points each but Maccabi's defense grew stronger in the final 15 minutes. Maccabi took full advantage of the opportunity of playing an injured Zalgiris team in Kaunas to get its first important victory in Group B.
Not surprisingly, the game started with the basket filling up quickly at both ends. Timinskas and Paulius Jankunas popped back-to-back three-pointers to get the Zalgiris fans going. Problem was, Vujcic was matching them with three-point plays in the paint, which helped put Zalgiris in foul trouble. When Vujcic reached 10 points with a tip-in, Maccabi had a 10-12 lead. Zone defenses slowed the scoring a bit, but Zalgiris had bigger problems when starting point guard Robert Pack committed a third foul and had to sit down. A series of 5 foul shots, a Vujcic fastbreak dunk and a three-pointer from none other than Derrick Sharp fueled a 2-10 run that put Maccabi in charge at 14-22. Only then did Zalgiris look inside to its own big man, Beard, for 5 quick points. But Maccabi was already getting bench help from a newcomer, Green, whose two baskets finished the quarter with the guests in charge with their biggest lead yet, 19-28.
Zalgiris pushed back early in the second quarter with a quick triple from Vidas Ginevicius, but Jasikevicius answered in kind for Maccabi. He and Green then got to the line for 5 good free throws before Anthony Parker scored inside for the biggest lead of the first half, 31-42. Beard reappeared to awaken the Zalgiris offense with an open triple, and then Timinskas decided to challenge the Maccabi defense at the rim. He drove twice for five points to cut the Maccabi lead down to 39-43. A sweet hook in traffic from Parker and another pair of free throws from Green bumped the guests up to a 39-47 advantage before young big man Martynas Andriuskevicius climbed off the Zalgiris bench. The 2.20-meter teenager got the last 2 points of the half at the foul line, but more importantly, protected the basket on defense from more Maccabi scoring. That left a 41-47 scoreboard in Maccabi's favor at the half, leaving hope for a comeback among the home fans in Kaunas.
Zalgiris looked to get back into the game behind Ginevicius, who drilled a triple among 5 points to keep his team as close as
48-52. After Green dropped a jumper from the foul line, Zalgiris continued to get good ball movement until Salenga popped an open three-pointer from the quarter that made it 51-54. The crowd was really into it now, but Parker silenced them with an unstoppable mid-range jumper and Green finished a steal with a fastbreak layup. Zalgiris kept playing from behind, but didn't give up. Pack came back to drive and set up Jankunas for a pair of free throws that made it 57-62. Then, however, an acrobatic inside basket-plus-foul by Maceo Baston at the end of the shot clock preserved Maccabi's momentum. Parker drilled his fourth jumper off the dribble in the quarter to extend the Maccabi lead to 59-69 late in the quarter. Only another triple by Ginevicius to close the quarter kept the difference in single digits, 62-71, after 30 minutes.
Maccabi nailed down the victory as soon as the final quarter started. Jasikevicius fed Green for a breakaway dunk that seemed to take the life out of the Zalgiris defense. Vujcic then got open three times in a row under the basket, getting 3 free throws and a layup to make it 62-76. Sharp popped off the bench again at that point and buried a three-pointer. The rout was on. Only Timinskas seemed to offer any resistence the rest of the way, and Maccabi was in no mood to give anything away. The score kept rolling up for the champs to its high at the buzzer, 75-102.
Monday, November 1, 2004