Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to 0-2 in Euroleague Top 16 Group F in heartbreaking
fashion on Thursday night, suffering a dramatic 71-70 defeat to Caja Laboral
Vitoria at Nokia Arena.
The yellow-and-blue trailed by 12 points (44-32)
at halftime, but forced a tight final quarter by outscoring the visitors 24-6 in
the third period.
Maccabi led by as many as eight points (58-50) early in
the fourth frame, but could not stop Vitoria from beyond the arc when it
mattered most and has left itself with plenty of work to do if it’s to finish in
the top four in the group and advance to the quarterfinal playoffs.
Hickman led Maccabi with 18 points, with Darko Planinic adding 11 and Devin
Smith and Sylven Landesberg scoring 10 points each.
Nemanja Bjelica had
17 points for Caja, which improved to 2-0.
Vitoria led for most of the
first quarter, with Thomas Heurtel’s basket with 1:41 left in the period opening
a 20-16 gap.
After playing just five minutes in his Euroleague debut last
week, Planinic made an early contribution on Thursday, showing plenty of
potential on both ends of the floor.
The 22-year-old Croatian, who
measures at 2.12-meters, proved he can run the court well when he ended a
Maccabi fast-break to cut the deficit to a single point before putting Tel Aviv
in front with two points from the free-throw line (21-20).
jumper to beat the first-quarter buzzer increased the gap to three points
(23-20) and two more points by the swingman extended the margin to 27-23 early
in the second quarter.
However, Maccabi would score just a single field
goal in the next six-and-a-half minutes, being dominated on the boards and
allowing Vitoria to move into a promising position.
An Omar Cook three
with 2:20 remaining in the first half capped an 18-3 run to open a double-digit
margin (41-30) and a Fabian Causeur triple gave Vitoria a 44-32 gap at the
Any hope of closing the deficit in the second half rested on
Maccabi not allowing the Spaniards to continue and control the paint, with
Vitoria grabbing 11 offensive boards to outrebound the yellow-and-blue 25-12 in
the first half.
A thunderous dunk by Tibor Pleiss sucked the life out of
the arena early in the second half (46-32) and a Fernando San Emeterio three
after another offensive board reestablished a double-figure cushion
However, that would prove to be Caja’s final field goal of the
frame, with Maccabi tightening its defense and Hickman and Landesberg hitting
shot after shot.
Two threes, one apiece by Hickman and Landesberg, took
Maccabi’s margin to six points (56-50) at the end of the third quarter and
Smith’s jumper at the start of the fourth frame gave the hosts their biggest
advantage of the night (58-50).
But Vitoria was not about to throw in the
white towel, regaining the lead with a 10-0 surge capped by a Causeur basket
from beyond the arc midway through the final quarter.
The game would
continue to go back-and-forth, with Maccabi scoring the next seven points to
move back in front (65-60), only for Vitoria to hit three straight triples, two
by Bjelica, to take a 69-67 lead with 2:33 to play.
Yogev Ohayon looked
to have cost Maccabi the win with two crucial turnovers, but he nevertheless
drove to the basket with 29 seconds to play to give Tel Aviv a 70-69
However, it would not be Maccabi’s night, with San Emeterio putting
Caja back in front with nine seconds left and Ohayon missing a chance to snatch
a win at the final buzzer.