Maccabi Tel Aviv’s season hangs in the balance tonight, as it goes into Game 2 of its best-of-five playoff series trailing Bnei Hasharon 1-0. In the tonight’s other game, Maccabi Haifa looks to extend its series lead over Barak Netanya, after winning the first game 88-76.

Having failed to qualify for European basketball’s marquee event, the Euroleague Final Four, Maccabi Tel Aviv knows that defeat will leave it in serious danger of ending the season without one of the main pennants that it competes for.

After the shock of losing at home in the first game on Sunday had worn off, the Maccabi players started to examine the reasons for the defeat. The finger of blame pointed directly at their psychological preparations for the encounter.

“It’s vital that you go into every game mentally prepared. The first five minutes are crucial. Giving away 32 points in the first quarter can only be down to psychological issues,” says naturalized American small forward David Bluthenthal − but also provides another possible explanation: “It’s tough beating a team four times in one season, and when they win a game, it boosts their confidence.”

But bubbling below the surface is a further explanation. Not for the first time this season, Alan Anderson’s style of play − and his teammates’ less-than-reaction to it − is cited as another reason for Sunday’s loss. “We practice certain plays,” says one Maccabi player, “but Anderson insists on taking the ball and doing whatever pops into his head. He just ignores everything we worked on in training. Obviously, he’s not the only reason we lost, but he’s a problem and someone needs to address the matter.”

And, of course, there’s the referees. “We started the game badly, mainly in defense, and that’s something that can happen to the best team in the world,” says another player. “But we got ourselves back into the game and even took the lead at one stage − and then the referees killed us with some scandalous decisions. If it had happened to any other team, everyone would be talking about the poor quality of the refereeing, but when the bad calls go against Maccabi, no one’s interested.”

Despite the defeat, one of the team’s owners, Udi Recanati, refuses to panic. “We lost one league game all season and now we’ve lost again. I can’t say I’m pleased to lose and I am certainly not happy with the way that we lost, but you can’t expect a team to win every game. Teams lose occasionally, and in a best-of-five series there’s still time to rectify the situation.”

And what about Pini Gershon? While the Maccabi head coach may have seemed to be a picture of serenity on the sidelines on Sunday night, team insiders say that since then, he has been on the warpath. Anyone who has bumped into him in the past two days − from seconds after the final buzzer on Sunday, in fact − cannot have missed his aura of nervous tension. Contrary to all the predictions, it isn’t going to be easy for Gershon or Maccabi Tel Aviv.