(photo credit: AP [file])
Maccabi Tel Aviv bid farewell to its legendry center Nikola Vujcic in an emotional ceremony at the Nokia Arena on Saturday night.
The 30-year-old Croatian, who spent six seasons at Maccabi, couldn't stop the tears when addressing the crowd and only spoke briefly ahead of the preseason friendly game between Tel Aviv and his new club Olympiacos.
"I really want to thank you for the game tonight. This is only something you get from true friends and I know I have six million friends in this country," said an emotional Vujcic, who was an intrinsic part of the great Maccabi, which won the Euroleague title in 2004 and 2005.
In the game itself, Maccabi suffered its sixth straight preseason loss, falling 80-77 to Olympiacos in overtime.
Effi Birenboim's team showed some improvement from its displays in Europe over the past couple of weeks, but still failed to register its first significant preseason victory, much to the concern of its loyal support.
Carlos Arroyo led Maccabi in scoring once more, contributing 14 points, with Vujcic scoring 11 points for Olympiacos.
"This was a great day for me," Vujcic said after the game. "I'm honored and I would like to thank all the people at Maccabi for organizing this day. This was one of the most emotional days of my life."
The Greeks opened a 9-5 lead after a clumsy start by both teams, but a 16-2 run by the hosts showed the capacity crowd what this season's Maccabi is capable of. Arroyo orchestrated the play and a Chester Simmons three-pointer, followed by an Arroyo basket, opened a 21-11 advantage.
Tel Aviv maintained its comfortable lead for the remainder of the period, taking a seven-point margin (21-14) into the second quarter, but its offense soon stalled and Olympiacos erased the entire gap by the break.
Maccabi scored just 11 points in the second period and a three-point move by Josh Childress with a minute to play in the first half tied the score at 30-30.
The teams went into the break all square (32-32) and Maccabi finally regained its scoring touch in the third period.
Rodney White showed what a dangerous offensive weapon he'll be for the side this season and Tal Burstein's three after three minutes gave the hosts a 42-37 lead.
A 9-1 run, capped by Lynn Greer's triple, put Olympiacos ahead once more (46-43) and Milos Teodosic's basket from beyond the arc gave the visitors a three-point margin (53-50) with 10 minutes to play.
Yotam Halperin, who followed in Vujcic's footsteps to Athens, scored a three at the start of the fourth quarter and another triple by the Croatian on the Greek's next possession opened a 59-54 gap.
Maccabi managed to close within a single point in the subsequent minutes, but Zoran Erceg's basket from an offensive rebound maintained the visitors' comfortable margin (68-62).
Tel Aviv, however, had no intention of going down without a fight and White tied the score at 68-68 with just under two-and-a-half minutes to play.
With both teams failing to score in the remainder of regulation the winner had to be decided in overtime, which was dominated by Olympiacos.
Greer opened a quick five-point advantage (73-68) and a Vujcic basket gave the side a 77-70 lead.
Maccabi would come within a single point (78-77), but Omri Casspi missed with just seconds on the clock and the team dropped yet another game.
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