By Amy Samin
Lior Eliyahu (19 points) was Maccabi’s leading scorer in the 92 – 75 victory over Eshet Tours Bnei Hasharon Herzlyia. Guy Pnini scored 17, including 3 key three pointers in the final quarter. Theo Papaloukas contributed 11 points and 6 terrific assists. Both Richard Hendrix and team captain Tal Burstein both came close to double doubles, the former with 10 points and 8 rebounds, the latter with 9 points and 9 assists.
After the game, Maccabi’s head coach David Blatt noted that the team could take a few of the elements of tonight’s game and apply them to Tuesday’s Euroleague quarterfinals game against Panathinaikos at Nokia Arena: “What you saw here tonight, aside from our strong will to win, was a fair amount of zone defense. PAO also plays the zone sometimes, so that could be of help to us against them on Tuesday. Overall it was a good preparation. We weren’t sharp in the first half, and we weren’t good on rebounds, and that’s what helped us get the win in Greece last week. We didn’t make stupid turnovers, so that’s something else we hope to take into the game with us on Tuesday. “
In speaking about tonight’s game specifically, Blatt said, “We weren’t able to prepare properly for this game, so it took us a little while to find our rhythm. When you practice and play all year and then don’t play for a week, it’s hard to come back. It took us about 2 quarters, but then the players found their rhythm and they looked good. I think the same thing about Guy Pnini. I had no doubt that sooner or later he would get back to being the shooter we all know.”
Guy Pnini himself said, “Finally my shots started going in. I was going a little crazy waiting for it to happen and I’m happy that it finally has. In spite of that, it’s more important that we got our momentum after that slow first half. The most important thing is to keep on playing well in the series against Panathinaikos. Personally, I hope I get a chance in the rest of the series. I was the happiest guy in the world when we won on Thursday, even though I didn’t play.”
Tal Burstein, Demond Mallet, Richard Hendrix, Lior Eliyahu and Yogev Ohayon started the game for Maccabi. The game got off to a slow start until Maccabi’s mascot (a dog) chased away a cat that had wandered out onto center court. The lead changed hands several times in the early minutes of the first quarter, until with four minutes remaining Maccabi took a 9 – 8 lead on free throws by Hendrix. Jason Williams scored to put Bnei Hasharon back on top, but a layup and 1 by Shawn James made it 12 – 11 Maccabi with just under three minutes left. Kenny Lawson scored to put Bnei Hasharon up again, but Burstein responded with a three pointer. Tweety Carter and his teammates retook the lead, and the period ended with Bnei Hasharon up 23 – 17.
Maccabi looked better at the start of the second quarter, with points by James, Hendrix, and Burstein (who scored after stealing the ball from Williams) tying the score at 27 after three and a half minutes. A three by Guy Lavie put Bnei Hasharon back in the lead, but Pnini and Eliyahu scored for Maccabi to keep things close. A three by David Blu (assist Ohayon) on the right wing gave the lead back to Maccabi, 36 – 35 with three minutes left in the half, and Ohayon soon added a full-court layup. Carter and Bnei Hasharon didn’t give up, and the lead changed hands twice more until points by Eliyahu made it 43 – 41 Maccabi. Williams sank a shot at the buzzer that sent the teams into the halftime break with the score tied at 43.
The third quarter opened with points by LaceDarius Dunn for Bnei Hasharon, but Hendrix tied the score at 45 and Eliyahu scored to put Maccabi up for good. Mallet scored from outside the arc to make it 50 – 45 with just under two minutes gone. Dunn responded in kind, but a dunk by Hendrix and two great plays by Eliyahu (including a dunk on a supersonic fastbreak after a block by Hendrix) soon made it 56 – 48. Bnei Hasharon continued to fight, but Maccabi tightened their defense and continued to score at will, with points by Pnini, Burstein and James wrapping up the period with Maccabi leading 66 – 58.
Maccabi’s first four baskets in the final quarter came from downtown, courtesy of Mallet and Pnini (who scored three straight threes off dimes from James, Mallet and Papaloukas) and broke the game open; with two minutes gone Maccabi’s lead had grown to 78 – 61. Isaac Rosefelt and Bnei Hasharon did their best, but Papaloukas, Pnini and Eliyahu took Maccabi’s lead past twenty, 85 – 64 halfway through the period. Papaloukas scored on a give and go, then added a coast to coast rebound/layup and immediately followed it with a dunk off a fake pass turned assist from Mallet, with two and a half minutes left. The game ended in a 92 – 75 victory for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv over Bnei Hasharon.
Maccabi: Eliyahu 19 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists; Pnini 17 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists; Papaloukas 11 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal; Hendrix 10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block; Burstein 9 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals; James 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist; Ohayon 7 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal; Mallet 6 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 steal; Blu 6 points, 1 rebound, 1 steal.
Top scorers for Bnei Hasharon: Dunn 21 points; Carter 15 points; Lawson 13 points.