As Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Rishon Letzion prepared yesterday for tonight's Super League Final Four playoff, Lior Eliyahu embodied the perennial powerhouse's sense of entitlement. "A championship isn't a desire for Maccabi, it's a must," said Tel Aviv's power forward.
Eliyahu was sick last week but is fit to play tonight, allowing head coach David Blatt access to a fully healthy roster.
The team this year plans to atone for last year's letdown, when the team lost just one game during the regular season but struggled in its playoff series with Bnei Hasharon and then lost the final to Gilboa/Galil.
Maccabi dropped just one regular season game this year, too, and had an easy playoff series against Barak Netanya.
The one-and-done format of the Final Four, however, is a little dangerous, according to teammate David Blu. "The Final Four format is intended to give other teams in Israel a chance against us," he said yesterday. "Every pro team can put out one good game like you saw last year. I don't know if it's fair or not. That's just the situation."
Maccabi Rishon, meanwhile, is fully enjoying its status as underdog. "There's no pressure on us," said center/forward Aaron McGhee. "Everything is against us. It's a home game for Maccabi, but we can win."
Nitzan Hanochi noted that while Rishon lost all its games against Maccabi this season, "in all of them we were in it for three quarters. We need this time to stay close to them until the final minutes, to keep them from running away and then try for the upset."
In the second semifinal contest, Gilboa/Galil hosts Hapoel Jerusalem. Hapoel won the teams' first meeting in November in Jerusalem and edged Gilboa away from home by a point in January, but Gilboa had the upper hand in an 84-82 game in Jerusalem last month. Gilboa won six of its final seven regular season games. Hapoel's loss to Gilboa started a three-game slide that cost the team second place, and hence the home court in this semifinal.