Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv edged Unicaja Malaga 106-101 in an overtime thriller on Thursday night at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel. The stars were out on opening night, but it was Maccabi's duo of Will Bynum and Nikola Vujcic that shined brightest. Bynum erupted for 29 points in his Euroleague debut, while Vujcic banged his way to 14 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists. Unicaja had a stand out duo of its own, with Carlos Cabezas hitting for 32 points and 7 assists and Jiri Welsch scoring 15 of his 17 in the fourth quarter and overtime. The game looked to be a runaway early, as Maccabi torched Unicaja in a 34-16 opening period. But Unicaja stormed back, starting the second period with an 0-17 run. The game came down to the end, as the fourth quarter alone featured four lead changes and four ties. Vujcic put Maccabi up with half a minute left, but Cabezas forced overtime with a runner with 6.1 seconds to go. However Maccabi was the stronger side in the extra period, holding off the visitors to start Group B with a tough win. Jamie Arnold came off the bench for 17 points and 8 rebounds, Simas Jasaitis added 14, Derrick Sharp 13 and rookie Lior Eliyahu 12. Berni Rodriguez scored 15 for Unicaja, Kostas Vasileidis had 14 and Florent Pietrus scored 4, but added 9 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Maccabi won the opening tip and scored first when Eliyahu fought his way to the basket, drew a foul from Carlos Jiminez, and coolly sank both free throws. Unicaja quickly struck back on the strength of a Pepe Sanchez triple. Both teams were making their centers focal points on offense, but while Vujcic's shots bounced out, Daniel Santiago made sure of his first 2 points with a two-handed slam. Bynum got the crowd going with a driving score over Santiago, and after Jiminez scored on the offensive glass, Eliyahu stole the ball and set up Jasaitis for a fast-break dunk that made it 10-7. Berni Rodriguez immediately tied the score with a bucket and a Vujcic foul, but Maccabi was just getting started. Bynum went over Santiago again for 3 the hard way, Jasaitis added a triple, Vujcic a hook shot and Sharp two free throws for a 10-0 run put the hosts up 20-10. Santiago ended his team's drought with a dunk, but Vujcic answered on the other end. Welsch drove for a Unicaja basket, but Eliyahu continued his impressive debut with a fine assist to an open Yotam Halperin for three. A minute later, Eliyahu stole the ball and went coast-to-coast before drawing a foul and earning a standing ovation from the crowd as Unicaja called timeout. After he swished the free throws, Maccabi led 29-16. Jasaitis took charge in the final minute with a triple and then a put-back in the closing seconds to make it 34-16 after 10 minutes.
Vasileidis made an impact as the second period started, draining a three-pointer and adding a driving layup, while providing a strong defensive effort. Cabezas's triple followed to trim the gap to 10, prompting Maccabi coach Neven Spahija to call timeout. Maccabi's slide continued as Rodney Buford missed a three-pointer, but Rodriguez and Cabezas didn't at the other end. Pietrus was making everything tough for the hosts' attack with fantastic defense. Soon Spahija put his starting five back in, as Rodriguez added 2 free throws and Pietrus another to cap a 17-0 run. Sharp finally put Maccabi on the board from downtown and Jamie Arnold, fresh in for Eliyahu, stole and darted coast-to-coast that made it 39-33. Pietrus's slam showed that Unicaja wasn't going to cave in, as the game grew in intensity. Arnold's mid-range jumper put Maccabi up 8 points, Vasileidis countered with a triple, and a little later 2 free throws to boot. Then Erazem Lorbek scored his first points from beyond the arc, cutting the deficit to 49-47, before Cabezas completed the visitors' comeback from the line. Maccabi couldn't score on the final possession as the teams headed to the locker rooms tied at 49-49.
Bynum put Maccabi on top with a layup on the first play of the second half, but despite the players fresh legs, many shots were bouncing out. Santiago countered with 2 inside. Pietrus continued to be a factor, drawing a foul from Eliyahu and swatting Bynum's effort, but Eliyahu dominated when he got the ball, scoring on four consecutive possessions to make it 59-54. However Rodriguez and co. weren't done. Berni and Vasileidis chipped into the lead from the line and then Cabezas silenced the crowd with a triple that gave Unicaja its first lead since the opening minute, 61-63. After a Maccabi timeout, Arnold tied the score from the low post and after Santiago stumbled and was called for traveling, Arnold hit an outside jumper. Then Bynum made a triple, but Cabezas was there with three the hard way to keep the visitors close. Another Bynum three was met by a Rodriguez three, so the Maccabi point guard tried a different way, scoring over and drawing a foul from Santiago to make it 74-70 and give Bynum 20 points. But a red-hot Cabezas matched that too, giving him 23 on the night and keeping Unicaja within 74-73 with one period to play.
Welsch started the fourth quarter by giving Unicaja the lead, but Vujcic brought it back Maccabi's way a minute later. Inaki De Miguel's first points were met by a Vujcic dunk, as neither team was able to pull away. Arnold went inside, scored and drew a foul from Lorbek, but after he missed the free throw, Welsch tied the score at 80-80 with a triple from the corner. The game was turning more and more physical, as both teams badly wanted to win. Vujcic found an open Sharp for a three as the 24-second clock expired to lift Maccabi once more, but Welsch, sporting the hot-hand for the Spanish champs, answered. Bynum put Maccabi up 86-82 with a short jumper and Unicaja's hopes started to dwindle when Welsch made only one-of-two from the line, before Bynum's one-armed prayer somehow rolled in. After Cabezas scored, Unicaja had another chance to close in, but Vujcic blocked Welsch's shot. However Vujic and Maccabi were stifled by Pietrus on the other end and Cabezas's fourth three of the game tied the score at 88-88 with 40 seconds left. Vujcic came through from the line, and Unicaja called timeout. Coach Sergio Scariolo put the ball in Cabezas's hands and the he didn't disappoint, driving on Sharp to tie the game at 90-90 with 6.1 ticks on the clock. Maccabi didn't call timeout and couldn't get a good shot off as the game went to overtime.
The tired teams took nearly a minute-and-a-half before scoring in overtime, with Jasaitis, who hadn't found the basket since the first period, giving Maccabi the lead with a layup. Rodriguez answered, before Sharp scored three the hard way to make it 95-92. Cabezas drove the lane for another 2 points, but his Maccabi counterpart, Bynum, scored two from the line to keep the hosts on top 97-94. Eliyahu fouled out trying to get in front of Welsch, who made one-of-two of the the resulting foul shots. Arnold corrected Bynum's miss on the other end on back-to-back plays, as Maccabi jumped out to a 101-95 lead with 49.8 seconds left, prompting Scariolo to call timeout. Welsch, again at the line, again made one-of-two, as did Arnold for Maccabi. Then Welsch pulled up for a three to bring Unicaja within 102-99, but Sharp's free throws with 33.2 to go followed by an Unicaja turnover sealed the game's fate. Bynum scored a pair from the line, and even Welsch's two made free throws were too little, too late as Maccabi celebrated a 106-101 win.