Only When It Matters

Mac. Tel Aviv has floundered in the league even as it excels in Europe.

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The first round of Super League Basketball games ended Friday with Maccabi Tel Aviv holding a mediocre 7-4 record and standing in fourth place, its lowest ever at this point of the season.

In contrast, Maccabi completed the group stage of the Euroleague on a strong note Thursday night, besting Panathinaikos 68-55 on the road to finish on top of Group D with an 8-2 record.

While the Israeli league gives Coach David Blatt a chance to rest his leading players, he played with his strongest roster on Thursday even though he had already clinched first place. At one point in the impressive victory, Maccabi was leading the Greeks by 23 points.

The absence of the injured Shawn James deepened Maccabi’s big-man woes, which suffered as usual from deficient defensive rebounding, yielding 15 offensive boards to Panathinaikos. Sofoklis Schortsanitis committed his fourth foul toward the beginning if the third quarter and Alex Tyus fouled out midway through the final period. Blatt sent in Jake Cohen, a rookie from Davidson College who up until that point had accumulated all of two minutes playing time in the Euroleague. The immigrant from the United States showed he has something to contribute.

Overall, the guards were the ones who made the difference against Panathinaikos. They drained 10 three-pointers on 27 attempts against 4-of-22 shooting from behind the arc by Panathinaikos, champion of the Greek league. Just a week earlier, the Greek team had thought its troubles were behind it after a convincing win in Russia. Instead, the team looked more like the faded green of its jerseys, save for Stephane Lasme. Every minute that head coach Argiris Pedoulakis kept him off the court was a mistake, and an insult to the 8,500 fans in the mostly empty stands.

Maccabi Tel Aviv showed that in a league that truly interests the team, the Euroleague, it has a lot to strive for. In the next stage, Maccabi will play in Group F, which should not present too hard a challenge. Real Madrid is virtually unstoppable, but CSKA Moscow is mediocre. Moreover, neither Zalgiris Kaunas, Galatasaray, Partizan Belgrade nor Bayern Munich are a match for Maccabi.

Turning up the offensive heat

After getting off to a sputtering start in the Super League season, Hapoel Tel Aviv raised its game three levels. Erez Edelstein loves how his team presses on defense. On Thursday, however, the squad turned up the offense a notch once again in front of 2,500 spectators. The team topped Hapoel Holon 85-76, scoring 84 points or more for the fourth consecutive time this season. Hapoel also registered 25 assists in the makeup game from Week 4.

Hapoel Tel Aviv, which is in third place through the first 11 games, is a talented, well coached, balanced team. It has its share of stars but also a cast of supporting actors. Raviv Limonad, who scored 20 points and dished out seven assists on Thursday, has reached the 15-point level every game this season. Matan Naor, who is in fine shooting form, scored 17 points for the first time since 2008. Josh Evans gave a great first half.

Hapoel Holon’s Scottie Reynolds scored 33 points, a season high for any player, in the losing effort. His performance included a sizzling 7-of-11 night from three-point range. Brian Asbury was a sad figure for Holon, missing all 10 shots from the field against his former team.

Hapoel had used a 15-2 run to pull ahead 64-59 with seven minutes remaining in the game. Edelstein called a time out and pulled his players together. Justin Harper closed out the game by scoring 13 fourth-quarter points, nine of them during the decisive 26-12 run after the time out.

Maccabi Tel Aviv supporters cheer for their team before the start of their Euroleague Final Four final basketball game against Panathinaikos at the Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona May 8, 2011.Credit: Reuters

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