Maccabi Tel Aviv has one foot in the Euroleague Final Four after surviving a stong defensive performance from Barcelona and winning the first of a three game quarterfinal series 81-75 at the Nokia Arena on Tuesday night.
Coach Sherf has now won 10 out of 12 games in Europe since taking over on January 1, and once again inspired his side to the win on Tuesday night. If the side continues like this it will not fear either Italian side Montepaschi Siena or Turkish team FB Ulker which it will play in the semifinals in May.
Maccabi used a 9-0 run bridging first two periods to take the lead and the hosts would increase it to 11 a number of times in the second quarter. Barcelona cut the gap to 36-29 by halftime. Gianluca Basile and Ersan Ilyasova each drilled 3 three-pointers in the third quarter as Barca came back to tie the score at 57-57. But Maccabi never fell behind despite constant pressure from the visitors and continued dominant play from Basile and Ilyasova. But Nikola Vujcic, who entered the game shooting 47.8% from the line, was perfect from the charity stripe when it mattered most and a traveling call on Basile with 20 seconds left and his team down 6 signaled the end for Barcelona.
Maccabi was led by its big trio of Esteban Batista with 15 points, Terrence Morris with 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Vujcic with 12. Yotam Halperin added 11 points and 5 assists and Will Bynum, who made his third start of the season, also score 11. Ilyasova finished with a career-high 21 points and 9 rebounds, Basile added 17 and Mario Kasun posted 12 points and 8 boards for Barcelona, whose biggest weakness was star guard Jaka Lakovic, who finished with just 6 points on 1-for-10 shooting.
Barcelona's performance was clearly a team effort in the first half, when no player on the visiting team scored more than six points.
At the end of the first quarter Maccabi held a two-point lead (16-14).
The low scoring first quarter was just what Barcelona wanted, but the start of the second shook up the visitors.
Tel Aviv had no intention of staying back and Batista came into his own, scoring nine points in the first half before being substituted for Vujcic.
Morris scored 12 of his own in the half and the hosts went into the break leading by seven points (36-29) The third quarter saw a different side of both teams. Barcelona played hard and Tel Aviv just couldn't keep up.
Although a Batista dunk gave the hosts some breathing space (57-54) Ilyasova popped up with a triple to tie the scores for the first time since the opening minutes and the teams went into the final quarter equal on 57-57.
The crowd was incensed and lively and urging the home team forward.
Casspi scored a three at the start of the fourth and then won a rebound to the delight of the supporters. The lack of penetration by Jaka Lakovic for Barcelona was key and as the quarter drew on the hosts grew in confidence and took the game by the scruff of the neck.
With 3:14 left on the clock Maccabi was winning by five points (73-68) and managed to keep up the gap in the face of intense pressure for the remainder of the game.