Maccabi Tel Aviv delivered big time last night as the perennial Israeli champion had its back to the wall following several unconvincing performances recently.
Maccabi put on an all-powerful display in its first home Euroleague game of the season at Yad Eliahu to brush aside Siena of Italy 107-81.
In contrast to last week's loss to Spanish outfit Tau Vitoria in Spain, where Maccabi relinquished the lead in the last minute of the game after holding a comfortable advantage for the previous 39 minutes, there was no such mistake this time as Derrick Sharp led a balanced Maccabi offense on the way to a surprisingly easy win. Sharp, who scored 16 points, was also a crucial cog in the Maccabi defense as he closed down Alfonso Ford.
The Italians, who won the Saporta Cup last season, looked as if they had not yet made the transition to the Euroleague, which, like its soccer counterpart, the Champions League, is on a completely different level.
The game was only close in the first quarter when both teams were still finding their range, but after that the result looked to be almost a forgone conclusion.
Siena was missing guard Setefanov which appeared to make life complicated for Turkish coach Ergin Ataman, as his bench looked decidedly shorter than it should have, making the rotation of players all the more difficult.
Nevertheless, even with the players who were available, Siena looked a far weaker team than the one of last season and rather than play like a team, it appeared to rely on the individual skills of Ford, Turcan and Voikcevic who play as if they are alone on court, they never pass the ball to anybody else.
Siena came up well short under the boards, as Maccabi dominated the rebound statistic at 35-26. The Italians had only 47 field attempts, while the hosts were way ahead in this department too, with 76.
Taking these statistics alone into consideration, no visiting team has even the remotest chance of winning at Yad Eliahu.
Maccabi of last night was a much better outfit than the one which we had seen both in Europe and the local league in the past few weeks.
There is still not enough aggression on defense and key man Quincey Lewis is not yet in full flow, but there are three or four aspects of Maccabi's play which appear to augur well for the future.
Firstly Sharp is proving to be a tower of strength on defense. Last night's excellent performance in shutting down Ford was a great example.
Playmaker Beno Udrih, 20, will become a great player: He showed some of his prodigious talents in the third quarter yesterday as he killed the clock and kept the opponents at arm's length with some impressive dribbling and great passing.
Tal Burstein is beginning to take over the mantle as the leader of the team, in place of Nadav Henefeld; big man Nikola Vojcic is NBA potential and needs a couple more years to sharpen up before trying to make it in the big time.
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