Maccabi TA suffers painful setback to Caja

Yellow-and-blue in trouble in Top 16 after falling to 0-2 with 71-70 loss.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Yogev Ohayon 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Yogev Ohayon 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to 0-2 in Euroleague Top 16 Group F in heartbreaking fashion on Thursday night, suffering a dramatic 71-70 defeat to Caja Laboral Vitoria at Nokia Arena.
The yellow-and-blue trailed by 12 points (44-32) at halftime, but forced a tight final quarter by outscoring the visitors 24-6 in the third period.
Maccabi led by as many as eight points (58-50) early in the fourth frame, but could not stop Vitoria from beyond the arc when it mattered most and has left itself with plenty of work to do if it’s to finish in the top four in the group and advance to the quarterfinal playoffs.
Ricky Hickman led Maccabi with 18 points, with Darko Planinic adding 11 and Devin Smith and Sylven Landesberg scoring 10 points each.
Nemanja Bjelica had 17 points for Caja, which improved to 2-0.
Vitoria led for most of the first quarter, with Thomas Heurtel’s basket with 1:41 left in the period opening a 20-16 gap.
After playing just five minutes in his Euroleague debut last week, Planinic made an early contribution on Thursday, showing plenty of potential on both ends of the floor.
The 22-year-old Croatian, who measures at 2.12-meters, proved he can run the court well when he ended a Maccabi fast-break to cut the deficit to a single point before putting Tel Aviv in front with two points from the free-throw line (21-20).
Landesberg’s jumper to beat the first-quarter buzzer increased the gap to three points (23-20) and two more points by the swingman extended the margin to 27-23 early in the second quarter.
However, Maccabi would score just a single field goal in the next six-and-a-half minutes, being dominated on the boards and allowing Vitoria to move into a promising position.
An Omar Cook three with 2:20 remaining in the first half capped an 18-3 run to open a double-digit margin (41-30) and a Fabian Causeur triple gave Vitoria a 44-32 gap at the break.
Any hope of closing the deficit in the second half rested on Maccabi not allowing the Spaniards to continue and control the paint, with Vitoria grabbing 11 offensive boards to outrebound the yellow-and-blue 25-12 in the first half.
A thunderous dunk by Tibor Pleiss sucked the life out of the arena early in the second half (46-32) and a Fernando San Emeterio three after another offensive board reestablished a double-figure cushion (49-37).
However, that would prove to be Caja’s final field goal of the frame, with Maccabi tightening its defense and Hickman and Landesberg hitting shot after shot.
Two threes, one apiece by Hickman and Landesberg, took Maccabi’s margin to six points (56-50) at the end of the third quarter and Smith’s jumper at the start of the fourth frame gave the hosts their biggest advantage of the night (58-50).
But Vitoria was not about to throw in the white towel, regaining the lead with a 10-0 surge capped by a Causeur basket from beyond the arc midway through the final quarter.
The game would continue to go back-and-forth, with Maccabi scoring the next seven points to move back in front (65-60), only for Vitoria to hit three straight triples, two by Bjelica, to take a 69-67 lead with 2:33 to play.
Yogev Ohayon looked to have cost Maccabi the win with two crucial turnovers, but he nevertheless drove to the basket with 29 seconds to play to give Tel Aviv a 70-69 edge.
However, it would not be Maccabi’s night, with San Emeterio putting Caja back in front with nine seconds left and Ohayon missing a chance to snatch a win at the final buzzer.