Maccabi Tel Aviv 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv lost its third and final game at the NBA Live Europe Tour in humiliating fashion Wednesday, with Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns thrashing the Israelis 119-102 at the 19,000-capacity Cologne Arena in Germany.
Maccabi coach Neven Spahija shuffled his starting lineup ahead of the game in an attempt to end the losing streak, benching new acquisition Rodney Buford, who was disappointing against CSKA Moscow on Tuesday. Simas Jasaitis replaced him at the small forward position, but it wasn't enough.
"I think these exhibition games are good for Maccabi," team president Shimon Mizrahi said when asked about the squad's poor results. "Some people think that it was not such a good move to play tough teams in the pre-season. But I think it's good that a club of our stature is involved in the globalization of basketball."
Maccabi now travels to the US to play a series of exhibition games against NBA teams, with the first match to be played Tuesday night against Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
New signing Noel Felix is expected to join the yellow-and-blue in the tour and provide a much-needed inside presence, something that was noticeably missing this month. Felix is expected to start alongside Nikola Vujcic in the front court, taking away valuable minutes from local highflier Lior Eliyahu.
Spahija's team kicks off its Euroleague campaign on October 26 at the Nokia Arena against Spanish giants Malaga. Maccabi will face tough opposition in Group B, with teams such as Panathinaikos, Roma and Partizan Belgrade looking to qualify for the next stage.
In Cologne, the Israeli champions benefited from a good start by point guard Will Bynum, who used his impressive speed and strong physique to out-maneuver Nash. Eliyahu also began well, scoring six straight points to give Maccabi the lead in the opening minutes.
The yellow-and-blue continued playing high-percentage basketball and led by 12 points (33-21) at the end of the first quarter, with Bynum forcing a foul at the buzzer and burying both of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Buford was inserted in the second quarter, but the Sun's found their rhythm and cut into Maccabi's lead when Shawn Marion began to relentlessly attack the hoop, humiliating hapless defenders time after time.
Despite the Sun's offensive outburst, swingman Sharon Sason entered the game and kept the Israeli's ahead with a crucial three-pointer and two quick buckets in transition, giving Maccabi a 60-57 lead at half-time.
Phoenix went on the attack at the start of the second half, and one again Marion was the catalyst. "The Matrix" produced another series of jaw-dropping slam-dunks by using his deadly first step to breeze past the Maccabi forwards, giving the Sun's an 80-79 lead after three quarters.
Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni pulled out Nash and Marion in the last period, introducing Amare Stoudemire and Brazilian guard Leandro Barbosa into the grind. The Sun's continued to build on their lead, beating Maccabi 119-102.
Barbosa scored a game-high 27 points, including five treys and six assists. Markus Banks, the former Minnesota Timberwolves guard and the Sun's new backup for Nash, chipped in 21 points of his own. Stoudemire, still recovering from last season's knee surgery, managed only 10 points.
The Suns beat both Europeans teams they played on the tour, Lottomatica Roma and Maccabi, and lost 103-100 to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Later Wednesday, the Philadelphia 76ers beat CSKA Moscow 85-71 for first place in the tournament.