Before Thursday, the last time AX Armani Exchange Milan was victorious in Tel Aviv against Maccabi was in December 1987. On that night almost 33 years ago, Tracer Milan rolled to a 93-99 victory led by a cast of stars that included Bob McAdoo, Dino Meneghin, Rickey Brown and Mike D'Antoni. Maccabi bounced back to beat Milan on the road and both teams ultimately reached the first modern Final Four and squared off in the championship game, which Milan won 90-84 in Gent, Belgium.
Maccabi claimed victory in the teams' next 11 meetings in Tel Aviv, though there were some close games, such as a 96-95 double-overtime victory in December 2005 led by Nikola Vujcic with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. Or Johnny O'Bryant scoring a career-high 32 points as Maccabi edged Milan 94-92 in December 2018.
The list of stars to walk into Yad Eliyahu Sports Palace, now known as Menora Mivtachim Arena, hoping for a win and walking out with a defeat includes Antonello Riva, Earl Cureton, Antony Bowie, Massimo Bulleri, Joseph Blair, Danilo Gallinari, Drew Nicholas, Ioannis Bourousis, Keith Langford, Nicolo Melli, Andrew Goudelock and Mike James.
On Thursday, Malcolm Delaney, Kevin Punter, Kyle Hines and Shavon Shields made sure that they would not have their names added to that list.
That quartet, all of whom joined Milan over the summer, played major roles for Milan on Thursday. Punter brought Milan back from the brink of defeat with a three-pointer plus foul with 18.9 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. Delaney did it a second time with the game-winning jumper in the dying seconds of overtime. Before that, Shavon Shields and Kyle Hines battled hard on the glass to keep Milan in the game against Maccabi's taller frontline. Together, they combined for less than half of Milan's playing time, but 60 of the team's 86 points, 9 of its 12 three-pointers, 24 of its 39 rebounds and 14 of its 20 fouls drawn.
Punter, who missed the start of the season through injury, scored 18. Delaney, in his third game back after an ankle injury, tallied 16 points and 4 assists. Shields had his second career double-double with 14 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. And Hines posted 12 points and 8 boards.
When Milan won in Tel Aviv in 1987, Brown was 29 years old. McAdoo, Meneghin and D'Antoni were well into their 30s – and even closer to 40. This time, Milan relied on a similarly veteran squad. Though Shields is just 26 and Punter 27, Delaney is 31 and Hines 34. Sergio Rodriguez, who added 10 points and a team-best 5 assists off the bench, is also 34, starting small forward Vlado Micov is 35 and reserves Michael Roll and Jeff Brooks are 33 and 31 years of age, respectively.
The modern version of Milan has a long way to go to match what the 1987-88 team, which successfully defended the EuroLeague crown, did in that erea. But after using a veteran squad to topple Maccabi in Tel Aviv, they are on the right path.