Maccabi Tel Aviv has suffered back-to-back Euroleague defeats for the first time in almost three years, losing 88-83 to Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius Thursday evening in Lithuania.
The yellow-and-blue drop to third place in Group B and suffer a serious dent in its aspirations to finish in the top spot. Maccabi's fate is no longer in its hands and will need to win its last group game next week against Winterthur Barcelona at Nokia Arena and for other results to go its way.
Maccabi trailed by as many as 19 points during the second quarter, but the reigning European champions showed their true character in a five-minute 23-4 run that tied the contest.
The game remained close until the final seconds, but a missed three-pointer by Maccabi's best player of the night, Anthony Parker (22 points, eight rebounds and four assists), which was immediately followed by a three-pointer from L. Rytas star Simas Jasaitis (21 points) gave the hosts a 86-81 lead that effectively ended the game.
"They were much better then us today; we didn't deserve to win," admitted Maccabi coach Pini Gershon after the game. "Any result besides a Vilnius win would have been an injustice."
The win was the Lithuanians' second of the season against Maccabi after a 92-86 victory in December at Nokia Arena.
Maccabi looked confused and disoriented at the start of the game, a direct continuation from last week's humiliating loss to AJ Milano in Italy. Last week, Tel Aviv suffered its worst loss since the creation of the modern Euroleague in 2000, falling 94-71. The yellow-and-blue looked awful last week without star center Nikola Vujcic (who had 14 points on Thursday), but despite the Croatian taking his usual spot in Maccabi's starting lineup in Lithuania, he was far from his best and as a result his team suffered.
"It was very, very difficult. They played amazing," Vujcic said. "It would be nice to finish top of the group, but we can still beat any team."
Maccabi stayed close to L. Rytas for the first few minutes of the game, but eventually paid the price for its turnovers with the Lithuanians going on an 18-2 quarter-ending run that gave the hosts a 31-14 lead after the first period.
Tel Aviv temporarily closed the gap at the start of the second quarter, but two straight three-pointers by the Lithuanian team gave it a 19-point lead, its largest in the game.
The huge deficit jolted Maccabi into action and the yellow-and-blue went on the 23-4 run that tied the game at 43 a minute before halftime.
The half ended in a 47-43 lead for L. Rytas, but Maccabi's strong second-period comeback put the yellow-and-blue in prime position for the second half.
The game continued to be close throughout the third quarter, but the hosts opened a six-point lead at the end of the period (68-62).
Haris Mujezinovic (14 points and seven rebounds) scored a three-pointer at the start of the final quarter to give his team a nine-point lead. Maccabi toughened up its defense and a Derrick Sharp (17 points) three-pointer tied the game at 71-71.
The game remained tight and the lead continued to change hands all the way to the final minute of the game when the hosts finally managed to push forward and secure victory.
Also for Maccabi: Will Solomon 17 points, Maceo Baston 11 points and Sharon Shason two points.
Anda Ramat Hasharon loses first gameof the season
Anda Ramat Hasharon's perfect record in Europe and domestically came crashing down Thursday night in a 74-67 EuroCup Women quarterfinal first-leg loss to Lisa Leslie and Spartak Moscow in Russia.
The visitors had an eight-point halftime lead (39-31), but Spartak took control of the game in third and pulled away in the final quarter.
Deanna Nolan led Anda with 16 points, while Cheryl Ford and Daliborka Vilipic had 14 each. Ford also had a game-high 17 rebounds.
Leslie, now 34 years old, scored 13 points and had 10 rebounds.