Maccabi Tel Aviv averted a potential disaster on Thursday night with a hard-fought 83-74 win over Cibona Zagreb in a Euroleague Group B game at Nokia Arena.
Maccabi started poorly and trailed by double figures for most of the first half before torching the Croatian champs for 30 in the fourth quarter.
Jamie Arnold, who started for the first time in place of injured Maceo Baston, had 20 points and seven rebounds for Maccabi. Will Solomon scored 20 as well, while Anthony Parker had 17 points and eight rebounds before fouling out in the closing minutes.
James "Scoonie" Penn led Cibona with clutch play that included scoring 11 of his game-high 25 in the fourth quarter. Damir Markota added 13 off the bench.
Maccabi improves to 2-1, half a game behind group leader Efes Pilsen, which was in overtime against Olympiacos at press time. The two-time defending Euroleague champs travel to Istanbul next week to face Efes in a battle for first place. Cibona fell to 1-2.
Baston's sore ankle affected Maccabi in many ways. Not only was the home team lacking its top interior defender, but the use of Arnold in the starting five deprived coach Pini Gershon of much of his scoring punch off the bench. Aside from 13 points from captain Derrick Sharp, a Sharon Shason layup was the only basket that a starter didn't score.
"I had to step up because the other guys weren't hitting their shots," Arnold said afterwards in an understatement. The rest of the team started the game with 10 misses in a row as Cibona started with a 9-0 lead.
Maccabi finished the first half with 13 points, the fewest its scored in a quarter all season.
After trailing 43-32 at halftime, the hosts clawed their way back in the third, again with Arnold supplying much of the firepower. Parker eventually gave Maccabi its first lead, 49-48, with four minutes left in the period, but Markota pushed Zagreb back into the lead with a drive and a three-pointer.
In the fourth it was Sharp with a pair of clutch threes that helped Maccabi get ahead after Solomon tied the game at 62-62. Penn was Cibona's only reliable weapon down the stretch and when Maccabi forced the ball out of his hands, there was no one left to win it for Zagreb.
Nevertheless the visitors never gave in, but Tal Burstein and Solomon made their free throws in the final minute to secure victory.
Two other Israelis played in Thursday night Euroleague games as AEK Athens defeated Zalgiris Kaunas 80-65. Dror Hagag started and went scoreless in 14 minutes, while Amit Tamir came off the bench to make a three-pointer in the second half.
Allon Sinai contributed to this report.
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