To open a season of high expectations in Tel Aviv, a potent Maccabi offense reached leads as high as 34 points before cruising to an 88-73 Group B home win over Unicaja of Spain on Thursday. Maccabi won the middle quarters 50-26, which was more than enough to get outscored a lot in the final one and still pull out the victory. The main man for the winners was unstoppable Nikola Vujcic, who finished with 32 points. The debut of Sarunas Jasikevicius wearing yellow in a Euroleague game was worth 14 points, while Anthony Parker scored 10 in his return to Maccabi. Darren Phillip scored 16 for Unicaja, which was led from the bench by interim coach Chechu Mulero while new coach Sergio Scariolo joined the club back ini Malaga, Spain. Chuck Kornegay added 15 and Moustapha Sonko 12 for Unicaja.
Maccabi bolted out to a 9-2 lead on the strength of solid team defense and a lethal fastbreak. While Unicaja struggled to find open shots, Anthony Parker, Gur Shelef and Tal Burstein converted layups in the paint. Shelef committed his second foul just 4 minutes into the game, prompting Maccabi coach Pini Gershon to introduce Lithuanian guard Sarunas Jasikevicius in his place. On the next play, a Parker jumper put Tel Aviv up 16-5, but Nikola Vujcic picked up 2 quick fouls, forcing Gershon to give big man Deon Thomas his first action as a Maccabi player. Chuck Kornegay and Louis Bullock made their free throws as Unicaja trimmed the lead to 18-11. Maccabi's foul woes continued, as Thomas and Jasikevicius both quickly committed a pair, and Maccabi lost its flow on offense as well. Kornegay and Darren Phillip hit free throws, and a Kornegay basket off an offensive rebound made it 20-17 at the end of the quarter.
Maccabi's David Bluthenthal nailed a three-pointer to start the second quarter, but followed with his second foul, giving Gershon 6 players with 2 fouls after just 11 minutes. The Maccabi coach decided to leave Bluthenthal in, and the move paid off on the next play when he finished a fastbreak with a powerful two-handed dunk to make it 25-17. Within a minute, it was 30-19, after Phillip was called for travelling and Derrick Sharp answered with a three-pointer, forcing a Unicaja timeout. The visitors brought in Frederic Weis to clog the middle, but Maccabi simply turned to Jasikevicius, whose layup capped a 13-2 start to the quarter. Despite a jumper from Phillip and a Louis Bullock three that cut it to 35-24, Weis proved ineffective, and his third foul ignited a wild finish, as Jasikevicius and Vujcic dominated with dazzling assists and three-pointers. Maccabi produced a 16-2 run to make it 53-27 before German Gabriel scored for Unicaja in the closing seconds to make it 53-29. Vujcic and Jasikevicius led Maccabi with 13 and 12 points respectively at the half, while Phillip had 9 for Malaga.
Jasikevicius tried to please the crowd in the third quarter, but a pair of his no-look passes were among three turnovers he committed. Meanwhile, Phillip was all business under the basket as his three-point play made it 57-34. Parker answered with a three-pointer and 2 Vujcic baskets in the paint threatened to jump-start Maccabi again, but a patient Unicaja continued to work the ball around to earn fouls. A couple more Bullock free throws followed by a steal, fastbreak and dunk by Moustapha Sonko made it 64-41. Unicaja's offense was stagnant without the departed Victor Alexander, his replacement Larry Lewis, or injured star Walter Herrmann, as the visitors scored just 14 in the quarter. Vujcic had 10 third-quarter points himself to bring his tally to 23. Phillip was leading Unicaja with 14, but the scoreboard was all Maccabi, 70-43.
Vujcic earned two more points from the line, buried a three, and Bluthenthal hit an open jumper that made it 77-43 early in the fourth. Unicaja called timeout to try and minimize the damage. It worked. Carlos Cabezas came off the bench to bury a pair of threes, and Stephane Risacher followed with another to make it 77-52. Maccabi countered with a timeout of its own, but Sonko cameout with another basket before Baston stopped the bleeding with a short jumper. Phillip with a steal and Kornegay's block on Vujcic were key components to the 0-11 Unicaja run. But even though Unicaja had Tel Aviv reeling, threemore baskets only cut the deficit to 81-62. Then, however, as Kornegay dunked, Cabezas made a foul shot, Sonko made two and Risacher scored, even Maccabi's fans began to have their doubts as Unicaja's 13 unanswered points closed the gap to 81-69. Still, Maccabi's lead was too great to overcome. A Vujcic basket gave him 30 for the night, and even though Unicaja outscored Maccabi 30-6 in the last 8 minutes, but it was to no avail as Maccabi won 88-73.
Thursday, November 6, 2003
Eran Sela, Tel Aviv