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Maccabi Tel Aviv suffered its first loss of the preseason on Sunday afternoon, but few if any of its fans will be disappointed with the 97-84 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs in Paris.
As expected, the Spurs were the superior team throughout the game, with the 13-point margin not reflecting its dominance.
The recent success of European clubs against the NBA squads had triggered a burst of optimism ahead of the game against San Antonio, but anybody who was dreaming of a victory on Sunday was brought down to earth by one of the NBA's top teams.
The Spurs were focused on restoring some of the pride lost by the NBA in recent days and grabbed a 24-6 lead and eased to victory. San Antonio's large early lead doomed the game to three periods of garbage time, allowing both coaches to give all of their players plenty of playing time.
The Spurs were led by Frenchman Tony Parker, who delighted the local fans with 27 points and five assists. Tim Duncan had 15 points and 11 assists for the 2005 NBA champions, practically scoring at will against the Tel Aviv defense.
Maccabi will be pleased with the contribution of new Lithuanian signing Simas Jasaitis, who played well and scored 11 points. Jamie Arnold led Maccabi with 15 points, with Nikola Vujcic scoring 14.
"There's a big difference between the European and the NBA levels. We played very poorly, and the Spurs are the best NBA team on this tour," Maccabi coach Neven Spahija asserted after the game.
"We have only been together for two weeks and we have six new players. My biggest problem is that we have a very busy schedule before the season begins and that we don't really have much time to practice.
"We need more practice, and I really can't tell when we're going to be good enough to play at the top European level. We just need more time together."
Maccabi Tel Aviv will play CSKA Moscow in a repeat of last season's Euroleague championship game in Cologne, Germany, on Tuesday, as part of the NBA Europe Live Tournament. Also Tuesday, the Phoenix Suns face the Philadelphia 76ers.
The winners of each game will square off in the tournament final on Wednesday, while the losers of each game will play for third place, also Wednesday.
Tel Aviv will then fly to North America to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the US on October 17 and two days later the Toronto Raptors in Canada.
Spurs coach Greg Popovich was full of compliments for European basketball after the game and sympathized with Spahija's tough job. "There are great coaches all over the world, there are great players and the competition is fantastic now. It's wonderful.
"In the early '90s, it wasn't even competition. It was entertainment, but today it's better, because it's competitive and that's great for basketball," Popovich said after the game.
"I thought Maccabi [had a] disadvantage because it was mostly NBA rules. They have many new players, a new coach and playing NBA rules made it very difficult for them."
Duncan scored the first basket of the game, giving the Spurs a lead they wouldn't surrender the rest of the match. With the score at 6-4, San Antonio went on an 18-2 run.
Any hopes Maccabi had of stunning San Antonio were dashed in the first quarter and the Spurs' lead remained intact for the next three periods.
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