BELGRADE (Reuters) - Euroleague holders Maccabi Tel Aviv, six-times winners Panathinaikos and Anadolu Efes Istanbul clinched the competition’s final three playoff berths in contrasting fashion on Thursday.
Maccabi sealed their passage with a 73-64 win at direct rivals Alba Berlin and while the result eliminated the German side, it also sent through Panathinaikos despite their dramatic 69-68 defeat at Red Star Belgrade.
Anadolu Efes suffered an 83-72 reverse at city rivals Fenerbahce but went through after Laboral Kutxa Vitoria were beaten 93-84 at fellow Spaniards Unicaja Malaga.
The trio joined already qualified Real Madrid, Barcelona, Fenerbahce, Olympiakos Piraeus and CSKA Moscow, who clinched the top spot in their Top 16 section with an 88-79 win at Emporio Armani Milan.
Fresh from extending his contract with Maccabi until June 2018 on Tuesday, American guard Devin Smith poured in 28 points, including seven three-pointers from 10 attempts, to propel the Israeli giants into the best-of-five quarter-finals.
Brian Randle scored 13 and Greek center Sofoklis Schortsanitis added 10 for the champions, who finished third in Group E and will play Group F runners-up Fenerbahce for a berth in the May 15-17 Final Four in Madrid.
Panathinaikos squeezed through as the section’s fourth-placed team, finishing with an identical 7-7 record as Alba but progressing thanks to a better head-to-head record. They will lock horns with Group F winners CSKA.
Panathinaikos threw away an eight-point lead in the last few minutes of a pulsating clash in the Pionir Hall, where Red Star’s towering pivot Boban Marjanovic sank a pair of free throws with two seconds left.
“We made the wrong decisions in the crucial moments and are fortunate to have gone through because the result of the other game played into our hands,” Panathinaikos coach Dusko Ivanovic told a news conference.
“But when on top of our game, we can stand our ground against anyone and if we move up a level I think we have a decent chance of reaching the Final Four,” he added.
Anadolu Efes were undone by a superb performance by Fenerbahce playmaker Andrew Goudelock who amassed 24 points, but Laboral were unable to take advantage.
The Turkish side progressed thanks to a marginally better head-to-head record against the Spaniards.
Real Madrid are at home to Zalgiris Kaunas and Barcelona visit Galatasaray on Friday as the Spanish giants, tied on 10 wins and three defeats each, end their neck-and-neck race for the top spot in Group E.
Editing by Martyn Herman