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10.04.2008 23:04

Goodbye to the Final Four (88-75)

Carles Cascante

AXA Barça will not play in the Final Four. Xavi Pascual’s side went out with their heads held high after playing on one of the hardest courts in European hoops in front of an impassioned crowd. Roger Grimau (18) led Barcelona’s scoring.

Apart from the first period, when Barça led by seven at one point (3-10), Maccabi were simply too strong in an incredible atmosphere in Tel Aviv. The 10,000 hostile fans in the Nokia Arena and some questionable refereeing, including exclusions to Basile and Cummings, after the Italian had been subjected to incredibly tight marking from the moment he came on, were the determining factors in the Israeli win. Far too many failed three attempts and losses of possession by Xavier Pascual’s side also proved costly, although Barça never gave up hope until the very end.

Vázquez proves lethal

Maccabi-FCB_2.JPGIt all started so well for AXA FC Barcelona. Focused in defence, Fran Vázquez was in fine early form. The Galician centre scored 7 of Barcelona’s points as they led 18-19 at the end of the first period. Mario Kasun, with four almost consecutive points, was also on song for AXA FC Barcelona, with some powerful plays on the paint.

Bluthenthal causes damage

The North American finally broke what until then had been an evenly matched game. Bluthenthal bagged two early second period threes to put his side six up (29-23). Bynum, who was also impressive, became more impressive still as the minutes ticked by. By the break Zvi Sherf’s side was already in a comfortable lead (43-34). Halperin, with some penetrating runs that had a habit of ending in 2+1 was another player on fine form.

Match defining moment

Maccabi-FCB_7.JPG2.40 from the end of the third period, the game reached its defining moment. Maccabi had a solid ten point lead, but Barça knew they had it all to play for and started playing out of their skins. Then Cummings clearly linked arms with Basile and brought him to the ground. The Italian attempted to use his feet to break free, and the Maccabi number 14 resorted to violence before being separated from his victim by Sharp. Batista also got involved in the skirmish at the Nokia Arena and ended up being sent off along with the Israeli passport holding American. Rules state that no player can come onto court while the game is in progress.

But although the refereeing decision, at least in principle, benefited Barça’s interests, that did not turn out to be the case, having lost the man who had performed best in the first two games of this series. Gianluca Basile was infuriated, and was particularly annoyed because the incident came just moments after he had taken nasty knocks from Brazilian Garcia and Cummings himself. The third period ended with an enraged Barça doing all they could to reduce the distance, but that spirit was dampened by a three from Bynum (63-53). Barça just were not controlling the decisive plays in the same way as they had done in the first period.

Playing catch-up

Maccabi-FCB_3.JPGThe final period started with the Israeli outfit going further ahead. With an inspired Bluthenthal and a dynamic Bynum they went +13 with seven to play (69-56). Xavi Pascual’s side opted for a zone defence but found that this was just creating more and more triple shot chances for the yellows, while creating very few opportunities of their own. Maccabi scored almost half of their three point attempts (10/22), while Barcelona converted a paltry 7 of 32. With all hope lost, the final minutes merely saw the Tel Aviv based side adding to their lead, led by Bynum and Bluthenthal (75-58), while for Barça, led by Grimau, it was to be a disappointing night that marked the end of the European dream for this season, although they were able to exit the competition with their heads held high.
Images: Euroleague.
Images: Euroleague.

Maccabi Tel Aviv: Cummings (9), Vujcic (6), Halperin (17), Morris (8) and Casspi (-) -starting five- Bluthenthal (21), Garcia (-), Batista (6), Bynum (21), Sharp (-).

AXA FC Barcelona: Lakovic (13), Basile (7), Acker (3), Vázquez (15) i Marconato (5) –starting five-, Pepe Sánchez (6), Grimau (18), Ilyasova (2), Neal (2), Trias (-).

Partials: 18-19 / 43-34 / 63-53 / 88-75

Referees: Koukoulekidis (GRE), Lamonica (ITA) and Ankarali (TUR)

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