The very first “Euro Classic” Game at Chicago’s United Center went to Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, which outlasted Olimpia Milan 85-79 on Thursday on the Euroleague Basketball World Tour 2015. From start to finish, the evening was a celebration of European basketball and all the components that make it great. Beginning with the opera singers that sang the anthems through the dedicated fans that showed up wearing bright red or yellow shirts to support their sides, Chicago received an authentic Euroleague experience. The centerpiece of it all was a highly competitive and entertaining game, though that wasn’t clear at first. Trevor Mbakwe dominated early with 8 first-quarter points as Maccabi stormed out to a 29-11 lead after 10 minutes. Robbie Hummel and Alessandro Gentile led Milan’s second-quarter rally to get within 46-40 at halftime. Stanko Barac scored 6 points in a 0-9 Milan run in the third that gave it a 55-60 advantage. The score was tied entering the fourth quarter, but Maccabi soon regained the lead and held on for good. Mbakwe and Brian Randle led Maccabi with 15 points apiece. Sylven Landesberg added 12, Vitor Faverani 11 and Dragan Bender 10, while Jordan Farmar flirted with a triple double with 7 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Alessandro Gentile paced Milan with 16 points, Hummel scored 15 and Jamel McLean 10. During the game, Milan honored former players Kenny Barlow, Mason Rocca and Kiwane Garris in a brief on court ceremony and Maccabi did the same for three of its former stars with Illinois ties, Tal Brody, Anthony Parker and Deon Thomas.
Mbakwe dunked for the game’s first points and remained a focal point with 8 points as the Israeli club built a 15-6 lead. Landesberg came off the bench for a three-pointer and a double-digit Maccabi lead. Dragan Bender added free throws and a rejection before Faverani’s layup on the buzzer capped a 29-11 opening quarter.
Andrea Amato scored first for Milan in the second quarter and Kruno Simon soon added a jumper. A pair of Hummel triples brought cheers from the Milan supporters and closed the gap to 35-24. A timeout didn’t slow down Hummel, who dunked and drilled another three. A behind-the-back pass from Randle to Landesberg for a fast-break layup kept the yellow-and-blue squad in control. Milan turned to Gentile and rallied back to within 5. After a Bender triple and a Gentile layup, the scoreboard sat at 46-40 at halftime.
Gentile swished a three as Milan continued to chip away at Maccabi’s lead, Midway through the third quarter, Barac made a reverse layup and after a timeout 2 free throws to tie the game at 55-55. The Milan center’s put-back gave his team its first lead. Charles Jenkins capped a 0-9 Milan run and prompted a Maccabi timeout. Milan Macvan gave Milan its biggest lead at 56-61. Yogev Ohayon’s steal led to a Landesberg triple that put Maccabi back on top, but Jenkins tied things at 63-63 through three quarters.
Guy Pnini hit a go-ahead three in transition early in the fourth quarter and Ohayon soon doubled the advantage, 74-68. Gani Lawal kept Milan in the hunt, but a Randle jumper that beat the shot-clock buzzer and another jam from Mbakwe gave Maccabi a promising 83-74 cushion with two minutes remaining. Hummel’s bank shot made it a two-possession game, but Bender dunked at the other end to essentially ice a Maccabi victory.
Andrea Cinciarini, Olimpia Milan guard:
“We started poorly, but then we improved a lot and I think our team played 20 really, really good minutes in the second and third quarters. In the fourth quarter we got a little lost, they took a small advantage and were able to keep it, but I believe we should take the good of those 20 minutes. Now we go to New York and try to do more before returning home. This was a good Euroleague game, though it was slightly different because it was in an arena bigger, with different reference points and the court is a bit wider and longer. The experience will be helpful for the game in New York.”