By Amy Samin
The fans waited and waited, followed the team on the Internet, in the newspapers and on television, and last night (Thursday) they finally got to see the real thing. In their first home game of the 2011 – 2012 season, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv defeated Cibona Zagreb by a score of 97 – 81 in the third round of the Adriatic League. Jordan Farmar (7 assists) and Devin Smith (5 of 8 from three point range) wowed the home crowd with 19 points each. Lior Eliyahu contributed 14 points. Before tip-off, the club and fans celebrated assistant coach Derrick Sharp’s 40th birthday with cake, special decorations, flowers, and a framed tee shirt.
Maccabi head coach David Blatt started off with Devin Smith, Lior Eliyahu, Jordan Farmar, Yogev Ohayon, and Sofo Schortsanitis. With the capacity crowd egging them on, Maccabi started off strong and fierce, quickly taking an 8 – 3 lead that included two three pointers from Devin Smith (assists by Farmar). Jure Lalić scored twice for the Croatians to make it 10 – 8 after four minutes of play. Cibona continued to play well, and took a 14 – 13 lead with just under three minutes remaining in the period. But Smith and Farmar took care of business with fadeaway jumpers, catch and shoots, and steals, and the quarter ended with Maccabi leading 22 – 16.
The second quarter opened with tough defense as well as a layup and 1 from Shawn James, who made his Nokia debut in Maccabi yellow. But the visitors scored five quick points to narrow the gap to 25 – 21, three minutes into the period. A monster dunk by Sofo (assist David Blu) helped put Maccabi back on track and was quickly followed by points from Blu off a Hail Mary pass by Theo Papaloukas and a classic stop and pop from Guy Pnini, making it 32 – 21 near the halfway mark in the period. Smith added his fourth from downtown and Eliyahu scored four straight to expand Maccabi’s lead to 39 – 22 with just under four minutes left in the half. Maccabi stayed strong on defense, and Richard Hendrix scored a mid-range baseline jumper (assist Farmar); the teams went into the halftime break with Maccabi leading 41 – 29.
Cibona and Marin Rosić started off strong as the third quarter got underway, but a three by Pnini and a pair from outside the arc by Blu extended Maccabi’s lead to sixteen, 53 – 37. Fouls called on Sofo and James (who left the game with five fouls after being tagged with an unsportsmanlike charge) made things tougher for Maccabi. The visitors took advantage with shots from three point range, but points by Papaloukas (steal + dunk, three pointer) and Blu (three from the top of the arc, assist Papaloukas) kept Maccabi in control, 65 – 50 with less than three and a half left in the period. Five straight points by Smith and a dunk at the buzzer from Eliyahu ended the third quarter with Maccabi leading 76 – 58.
Maccabi dominated in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, but a foul plus technical called on the bench resulted in four from the charity stripe for Cibona, which they followed with buckets from Brian Matthew Chase and Tomislav Zubčić, and the visitors pulled within eight, 78 – 70, two and a half minutes into the period. Eliyahu, Pnini, and Farmar demonstrated strong moves in the paint to reopen Maccabi’s lead to 85 – 72, which forced Cibona to call for a timeout. The break didn’t seem to help much, as Farmar scored three from the left wing and Sofo added his own three-point play with a bucket and 1, followed by more points from Eliyahu which brought the score to 93 – 74 with three and a half minutes left on the clock. Sofo was called for his fifth foul and was replaced by Hendrix, who scored from the foul line and in the paint to wrap things up, and the game ended in a victory for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv over Cibona Zagreb, 97 – 81.
Maccabi: Farmar 19 points, 7 assists; Smith 19 points; Eliyahu 14 points, 4 rebounds; Blu 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists; Schortsanitis 11 points, 5 rebounds; Hendrix 8 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks; Pnini 8 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds; Papaloukas 4 points, 4 assists, 2 steals; James 3 points. Burstein, Ohayon, and Scheyer played but did not score.
Leading scorers for Cibona: Chase 17 points; Zubčić 16 points; Rosić 14 points.