The first week of Euroleague Basketball action this season will go down as one to remember with exciting games and story lines across the continent. Although the season officially tipped off on Monday when CSKA Moscow beat Prokom Trefl 69-88 in the traditional Opening Game, Wednesday featured five more matchups and there were few disappointments. The last five games were played on Thursday, and they lived up to the billing as all were decided by 8 points or less – including two that wnet down to the last shot. Heroes were everywhere, whether they be unsung players who exploded for huge nights like Nikola Pekovic or Marijonas Petravicius, stars that won the game down the stretch like Brion Rush and Yotam Halperin or those that inspire others, like Miha Zupan, the first deaf player to compete at this level.
The last game provided an eye-opening result, as Partizan Igokea rode Nikola Pekovic's monster night to an 81-78 victory over AXA Barcelona. The young Pekovic came of the bench to make 13 of 14 shots on the way to a career-best 29 points and 8 rebounds. The evening proved to be a historic one on a number of fronts. Barca center Denis Marconato set the Euroleague Basketball record for most games played by appearing in his 145th game. Partizan won on opening night for the first time in seven years, while Barcelona dropped its European season-opener for the first time since 1995!
In Athens, Roma playmaker and new father Roko-Leni Ukic missed out on a storybook ending as Sarunas Jasikevicius and Vassilis Spanoulis marked their Euroleague return by spurring defending champion Panathinaikos to an 86-83 victory. Ukic, whose wife gave birth to the couple's first child this week, buried a game-tying triple in the last second that was waived off for traveling. On the other end, Saras scored 7 straight points in the fourth quarter and made a pair of clutch free throws in the closing seconds. Spanoulis led the Greens with 15 points. Jon Stefansson scored a career-best 25 for Roma. Despite the non-stop excitement over 40 minutes, it seems that only the fans went home happy, as Panathinaikos guard summed up the evening for his team by saying "the most important [thing] is victory even though we played terribly" and Roma big man Gregor Fucka said "if this performance makes me confident? No, because we lost the game."
Alan Anderson took full advantage of his opportunity, leading Virtus VidiVici Bologna with 28 points in an 81-75 win over Zalgiris Kaunas. Anderson is normally a backup to Delonte Holland, who was suspended for disciplinary reasons. Center Andrea Crosariol played a big role down the stretch and finished with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Paulius Jankunas scored 15 for Zalgiris. The game was a rematch of the 1999 Euroleague final, although Zalgiris center Eurelijus Zukauskas was the only player in uniform this time who also played in that classic.
Luksa Andric took over when Sam Hoskin went down in the first minute with an ankle injury and paced Cibona to a 93-85 win over Efes Pilsen and former local favorite Scoonie Penn. Cibona stormed back from a 13-point third-quarter deficit to start the season with a win. Penn, who joined Pilsen less than a week ago, led Cibona to within a few points of a spot in the Quarterfinal Playoffs just two years ago. On Wednesday, Cibona had new stars, as Andric weighed in with a career-high 19 points, Larry Ayuso displayed his shooting touch with 17 points and rookie Tre Kelley brought energy off the bench on the way to 14 points and 5 assists. Andre Hutson led Pilsen with 18 in his Euroleague debut.
Montepaschi Siena was the big winner by crushing Union Olimpija 80-52. Montepaschi had everything clicking on both ends of the court, holding Olimpija to just 8 second-period points as it built a 50-26 halftime lead. Rimas Kaukenas and Ksistof Lavrinovic led the victors with 22 and 21 points, respectively, while Terrell McIntyre and Vlado Ilievski paced the defensive effort with 11 steals combined. The game featured the long-awaited Euroleague debut of Miha Zupan, the first deaf player to compete at this level. Zupan played 13 minutes off the bench and contributed 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists to the Olimpija effort. Team captain Marko Milic led Olimpija with 16 points.
Jeremiah Massey started his sophomore season in style with 20 points and 8 rebounds, while rookie Reyshawn Terry was 11-of-11 from the line on the way to 18 points as Aris TT Bank rocked the Alexandrio with an 87-83 come-from-behind victory over Unicaja. The visitors, who reached the Final Four for the first time last season, led by 8 in the third period, but Aris trumped Unicaja with some spirited and tactical play down the stretch.
Maccabi Elite welcomed new coach Oded Kattash to the fray, but needed all 20 minutes to hold of pesky Le Mans for a 74-71 win. Kattash, who scored 25 points the last Maccabi opened the season against a French team 10 years ago, passed the torch to Yotam Halperin, who had 18 points and a career-high 9 assists Thursday to lead the Israeli champs. It was a bitter homecoming for Le Mans's Israeli guard Raviv Limonad, who had 4 points and 5 assists in his first trip back to his native country since joining Le Mans.
Olympiacos avenged a Quarterfinal Playoffs sweep at the hands of Tau Ceramica last season with a 95-90 win in Piraeus. The battle between two star-studded teams saw the Reds lead by 18 at the half, then Tau came back to go up 3 early in the fourth quarter. However former Tau scorer Arvydas Macijauskas finished the deal with key points in the closing minutes to put Tau away. Pini Gershon's side had four players – Macijauskas, Marc Jackson, Lynn Greer and Qyntel Woods – score at least 19 points. Mirza Teletovic scored 19 points and pulled 17 rebounds for Tau.
With teammate and good friend Chuck Eidson out injured, Marijonas Petravicius stepped up with one of the best games he's ever played to lead Lietuvos Rytas to a 76-83 road win at Armani Jeans Milano. Petravicius posted 28 points on 10-of-12 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 steals in his Euroleague debut. Milano's defeat came just 48 hours after a coaching saw saw Attilio Caja take over on the bench. The new boss saw some positives from his team's performance despite the final result. “Our team showed a lot of pride to come back in the game from 18 points behind,” Caja said. “I think that we have to save that pride we had in the second part of the game to work together and improve as a team."
Brion Rush made his and his team's Euroleague debut one for the books with a game-winning three-pointer with time running out to lead Chorale Roanne past Brose Baskets Bamberg on the road 61-64. Bamberg trailed by as many as 16 in the fourth quarter before storming back to tie the game on an Ademola Okulaja basket. The victory was a special one for Roanne fans, since the team had gone 50 years since its last appearance in Europe's top club competition.
ULEB Cup champion Real Madrid marked its return to the Euroleague with a 72-80 victory at Fenerbahce Ulker. Axel Hervelle posted career-highs of 23 points and 5 three-pointers to pace his team. The game was effected by the absence of two Elite guards. Fener's Will Solomon was a late injury scratch, while Madrid's Louis Bullock went down after seven minutes and did not return.