It wasn’t easy but Maccabi Tel Aviv found a way to escape with an 84-83 win over Zalgiris to open up the 2022/23 Euroleague campaign. Bonzie Colson showed that he belonged in the continent’s top competition scoring clutch baskets and grabbing crucial rebounds while Lorenzo Brown proved that his performance for Spain capturing the Eurobasket was no fluke as he along with Wade Baldwin paced the Yellow & Blue attack to take the victory.
Oded Katash’s charges came out scoring at will with Darrun Hilliard and Lorenzo Brown leading the way but ex-Maccabi guard Keenan Evans and Kevarrius Hayes made sure to keep the hosts honest as they grabbed a 48-46 lead at halftime. Wade Baldwin started to heat up in the third quarter while Bonzie Colson put his mark on the game, however, Hayes, Tomas Dimsa and Rolands Smits caused all kinds of trouble for Maccabi to take a slim lead as time wound down. But a pair of Alex Poythress free throws and tight defense gave the Yellow & Blue the 1-point victory.
Colson led the way with 16 points, Baldwin added 15 points while Brown recorded a double-double with 13 points and 11 assists in the win. Evans paced Zalgiris with 17 points, Hayes put in 16 points and Dimsa checked in with 13 points in the loss.
“I’m really happy for the win,” Katash said following the contest. “Coming into the game we knew it wasn’t going to be easy and we had reason to believe that it wouldn’t be easy. We started this process and we had challenging preparation when you build something from zero. Zalgiris had a mix of veteran and young players and we knew that they wouldn’t give up which they didn’t.”
Kazys Maksvytis, Zalgiris’s head coach commented about the game, “We were missing one good play for the win, so we are very sorry for the loss. We came and played in an atmosphere like this, and we had a chance to win.”
The game MVP Bonzie Colson also gave his thoughts on the close encounter, “We just fought until the end. I think that shows the character of our team early. No matter what goes on, we fight, we play hard, and I think we showed that tonight. It was a great win. We’ve got the best fans in Europe. I’m the type who likes to feed off their energy, so it’s great to have fans like that.”
Zalgiris put the ball inside for a trio of Kevarrius Hayes buckets, but Maccabi Tel Aviv came back with a triple from Wade Baldwin and a pair of baskets from Alex Poythress including a dunk to put the hosts in front 11-8 midway through the first quarter. Darrun Hilliard and Lorenzo Brown got busy with a 3-pointer a piece, Keenan Evans and Hayes each scored a pair of baskets, Hilliard drained another triple and Rafi Menco sliced his way to the hoop off the baseline for a reverse layup to keep Oded Katash’s squad ahead 30-27 after ten minutes of end to end action.
Rolands Smits scored a midrange and from beyond the arc, Lukas Lekavicius added a bucket and very quickly Zalgiris snatched a 38-32 lead with 6:07 left in the second quarter. Ignas Brazdeikis and Evans found points for the visitors, Brown, Poythress and Hollins all scored to pull Maccabi to within 2-points, 48-46 at halftime.
Evans and Baldwin traded triples to begin the third quarter, Baldwin then did a little shake and bake to get Colson the ball for another basket as did Brown for two more helpers on a pair of Colson buckets to put Maccabi ahead 61-53 midway through the frame. Brown and Baldwin hit their shots, Josh Nebo added a pair including an alley-oop but Brazdeikis and Lekavicius each scored to keep Zalgiris hanging around down 71-65 after thirty minutes of play.
Baldwin from deep, Colson on a layup and Brown hit a midrange jumper to extend the Maccabi lead to double digits, 80-69 with 6:03 left in the fourth quarter. Hayes scored in the paint, Tomas Dimsa went from deep and Smits added points to snatch the lead 83-82, but Poythress hit a pair of free throws and the Yellow & Blue held off Zalgiris’s last gasp effort to hold on to take the hard fought.