Mac TA 224.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv got its Euroleague campaign off to a winning start on Thursday night, defeating Le Mans 74-71 in a surprisingly tight encounter at the Nokia Arena.
Tel Aviv trailed for large parts of the game and was fortunate to claim the victory against the naÃ¯ve French side. Yotam Halperin's two steals in the closing stages of the game denied Le Mans a stunning victory and his 18 points, nine assists and six rebounds were the main reason new coach Oded Katash got his Euroleague coaching career off to a good start. Tel Aviv struggled on offense and defense for most of the game and Katash has got plenty of work to do for the team to become a Final Four contender it's supposed to be.
Tel Aviv visits Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius in Lithuania next week and will have to improve very quickly if it's to maintain a perfect record in European basketball's premier competition.
Nikola Vujcic was Maccabi's second best player on the night, scoring 14 points, grabbing six rebounds and passing six assists. David Bluthenthal and Derrick Sharp added 12 and 11 points respectively.
Samuel Clancy scored 20 points and took eight rebounds for the visitors, with Nebojsa Bogavac adding 12 points.
Nicolas Batum showed why he's being tipped by many to be a lottery selection at next years NBA draft with an acrobatic basket to open the game. Samuel Clancy's basket off an offensive rebound extended Le Mans lead to 6-0, but Halperin, who scored 13 points for Maccabi in the first quarter, hit his first three pointer of the game to put his side on the board. Luka Bogdanovic's jumper midway through the period gave the visitors their biggest lead of the game (14-7), but it wouldn't take long for Tel Aviv to erase the deficit. Derrick Sharp's successful free throws with two minutes remaining in the quarter tied the score at 18-18 and a Halperin lay-up after a Sharp steal 30 seconds to the end of the period gave the hosts a 25-23 advantage after 10 minutes.
David Bluthenthal's three pointer four minutes into the second quarter extended Maccabi's margin to eight points (35-27), but an 11-1 run helped Le Mans regain the lead. Nebojsa Bogavac's free throws with two minutes remaining in the first half opened a two point lead (38-36), the Frenchmen's first in almost 10 minutes. Antoine Diot's basket in the closing seconds of the half made sure Le Mans went into the interval with a surprise one point lead (42-41) against one of the Euroleague's best home team's.
A Bluthenthal three and a Sharp basket put Tel Aviv in front (46-44) two minutes into the third period, but a 12-2 run by the visitors gave them an eight point advantage. Alain Koffi's jumper with two-and-a-half minutes remaining in the third quarter increased Le Mans lead to 10 points (60-50), but Sharp's buzzer beater at the end of the period brought Maccabi within touching distance once more (62-56).
The pressure seemed to get the better of both team's at the start of the fourth period, with neither side managing to score in the first two minutes of the quarter. Bogdanovic finally got the first points of the final quarter with a basket from beyond the arc and gave the visitors a nine point margin.
Just when it began to look like Maccabi may fall to a shocking home defeat, the hosts went on an 11-2 run that tied the score (67-67). Vujcic's three pointer with just over four minutes remaining in the game completed Tel Aviv's comeback and it wouldn't be long before the team surged ahead to clinch the win.
Halperin's free throws gave the team its first lead of the second half (71-69), but Clancy tied the score for Le Mans and Maccabi was in danger of losing the game. The visitors tied the score at 71-71 and had possession with 30 seconds remaining. A Halperin steal, however, saved the side's blushes, with Terence Morris scoring a crucial lay-up to give Tel Aviv a slender win.