Maccabi Tel Aviv moved into a 1-0 lead in the Euroleague quarterfinal playoffs in remarkable fashion on Wednesday night, coming back from a double- digit deficit in the final three minutes to force overtime and record a stunning 101-99 victory over Olimpia Milano in Italy.
Maccabi looked to be dead and buried when Samardo Samuels gave the hosts a 12-point cushion (84-72) with 2:40 minutes to play.
However, Maccabi guard Tyrese Rice led his team back into the game, scoring nine points in the final two minutes after netting just four points until that stage.
Nevertheless, Milano had a golden opportunity to claim the win with 0.7 seconds remaining, only for Keith Langford to miss his second free throw, resulting in an 87-87 tie after regulation.
Rice continued his superb showing in overtime and Maccabi snatched a dramatic win, as well as home-court advantage from the Italians.
Game 2 will be played in Italy on Friday before the series moves to Tel Aviv for Game 3 on Monday. Game 4 will also be played in Israel, if necessary, with the series decider to be held in Milan should it be required.
Ricky Hickman was Maccabi’s top scorer with 26 points, while Rice and Sofoklis Schortsanitis finished with 17 points each.
Langford led Milano with 18 points, but will have to find a way to lift his team ahead of Game 2 after Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss.
After inexplicably starting Andrija Zizic in place of Schortsanitis, coach David Blatt didn’t take long to send his Greek center into the game and he repaid him by giving Maccabi the lead (6-5) with a threepoint play.
The hosts had a four-point edge after the first quarter (23- 19), only for Yogev Ohayon to tie the game once more (31-31) from the line with six minutes remaining in the first half. But Maccabi wouldn’t regain the lead until the final seconds, with Langford’s points opening a five-point advantage (47-42) for Milan at the interval.
A 9-2 mini-run by Milano, capped by a Nicolo Melli three-pointer midway through the third period, put the Italians in complete control (60-47).
Milano was still firmly in the driving seat with 10 minutes to play (70-58) and it seemed like nothing would deny it the victory when Samuels reestablished a 12-point cushion (84- 72) with 2:40 left on the clock.
However, Rice almost singlehandedly dragged the yellowand- blue back into the game after scoring just four points until the final two minutes of regulation.
An unsportsmanlike foul by Melli with 28 seconds to go handed Maccabi a crucial lifeline, with Rice hitting two free throws to bring Tel Aviv within a single possession (85-82).
Two more points from the charity stripe followed by a three-point play by Rice amazingly saw Maccabi move into the lead (87-86) with 11.4 seconds to play.
However, a contentious call by the referees gifted Langford two free throws with 0.7 seconds to play and an opportunity to clinch the win. But the former Maccabi guard could only hit his first attempt, sending the game into overtime.
Rice remained on a roll at the start of the extra period, scoring four straight points to give Maccabi a 91-87 margin.
Samuels’s basket put the teams back on level terms (93- 93) with 1:15 remaining and a triple by Curtis Jerrells with 41 seconds to play placed the hosts back in the lead (96-95).
But Hickman would score twice from the line with 30 seconds left to move Maccabi back ahead and an Alex Tyus steal off Langford at the other end resulted in two more points for Hickman, securing a memorable win for the yellow-and-blue.