Maccabi takes Euroleague home opener

Tel Aviv survives late comeback, vanquishes Partizan 70-66 to even record at 1-1.

Maccabi TA's David Blu 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi TA's David Blu 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
It wasn’t pretty, but Maccabi Tel Aviv will be happy with claiming its first Euroleague win of the season on Thursday night after beating Partizan Belgrade 70-66 at Nokia Arena.
The yellow-and-blue looked nothing like the team that set the Euroleague alight last season with delightfully entertaining play.
However, what it lacked in proficiency it made up with fight, claiming an important home win after last week’s loss at Olimpia Milano in its regular season opener.
Maccabi continued the trend of recent games and struggled desperately on offense. It hit just 21 of 46 shots from two-point range and couldn’t find its rhythm from beyond the arc yet again, scoring four of 16 attempts.
But the yellow-and-blue kept Partizan under pressure throughout the game with solid defense, limiting the Serbians to 24 of 55 from the field and forcing 18 turnovers.
Nonetheless, coach David Blatt will know that Maccabi will need a significant and immediate improvement if it has any intention of contending in the Euroleague as it did last season, with the powerful Real Madrid already coming to visit Nokia next Thursday.
Theo Papaloukas led Maccabi with 13 points, with Jordan Farmar adding 11 points, six assists and six rebounds.
Lior Eliyahu and Guy Pnini had 10 points each, while Milan Macvan, who left Maccabi for Partizan on loan last week, scored 14 for the Serbs.
It didn’t take long to realize that Thursday’s game would be more about grit than grace, with both teams eager to grind the other under the basket and accurate long range scoring at a premium.
A three-point play by Sofoklis Schortsanitis – which came on a dunk in the face of Minnesota Wolves center Nikola Pekovic – gave the Tel Aviv fans something to cheer about, but there was little to separate the teams for the first seven minutes of the game.
However, Partizan failed to score a point in the final three minutes of the first period, and a 7-0 run to end the quarter opened a 19-12 Maccabi lead.
A great Papaloukas move under the basket left the Serbian defenders bamboozled and extended the yellow-andblue’s margin to double-digits (25-14).
But just when it seemed Maccabi had the opportunity to break Partizan’s resistance, Tel Aviv’s offense stalled badly, failing to score a point for almost four minutes.
Fortunately for the hosts, Belgrade was also lacking offensively, and Pnini’s three at the buzzer gave Maccabi a 41-29 gap it was happy to take into the break after shooting just 15 of 33 from the field.
After its unconvincing first half, Maccabi moved up a gear defensively in the third frame, limiting Partizan to a mere 11 points in 10 minutes.
Papaloukas’s steal and layup to start the second half was a sign of things to come, with Pekovic committing his third foul at the other end, limiting Belgrade’s options for the remainder of the period.
Eliyahu’s basket opened a 49-33 margin and Richard Hendrix’s thunderous dunk increased the gap to 16 points (53-37) with 4:10 to play in the third.
A Shawn James free-throw extended the lead to a game-high 19 points, but Acie Law’s three-point play to end the quarter gave the visitors a lingering hope of mounting a dramatic comeback.
Four straight Belgrade points to start the fourth period got the local support slightly edgy, but Tel Aviv maintained a comfortable lead until the end of the game, with Papaloukas’s triple with less than four minutes to play opening a 15-point gap (65-50) from which Partizan was never going to come back.