By Amy Samin
Starting the game for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv were Guy Pnini, Raviv Limonad, Andrew Wisniewski, Chuck Eidson, and D’or Fischer.
Hosts Afula led off with Nir Cohen, Gur Porat, Justin Dentmon, Dionte Christmas and newcomer Steffon Bradford.
Cohen and Porat gave Afula an early lead, but Pnini with the first of several three pointers and Fischer with a dunk (off an assist by Eidson) put Maccabi on top, 5 – 4 after two minutes of play. Pnini added another from downtown plus a drive in the paint, and a layup by Wiz capped off a 12 – 0 scoring run for Maccabi, 12 – 4 after just over three minutes.
Afula woke up and began scoring, with Porat and Dentmon leading the way, but thanks to Eidson (who had four more assists in the quarter, plus a three pointer of his own) and points by Limonad, Maccabi soon had a ten point lead, 19 – 9 at the halfway mark.
Wiz scored on a pretty give-and-go, while Pnini and Limonad showed how it’s done outside the arc.
Alan Anderson sent a no-look pass to Stephane Lasme for a dunk at the buzzer, making it 31 – 16, Maccabi, after one period.
The second quarter opened with a three pointer from Limonad and two from David Bluthenthal to make it 40 – 18 after three and a half minutes.
Dentmon fought valiantly for Afula, but on his own was no match for Maccabi.
Limonad sent another one home from outside the arc, and Doron Perkins slammed in a dunk to give Maccabi a 21 point lead, 49 – 28 with three minutes left in the half.
Points from Lasme (off an oop from Anderson), an acrobatic spin-and-shoot by Anderson in the paint, and a mid-range jumper by team captain Derrick Sharp closed out the half, with Maccabi leading 56 – 38.
Afula came out after the break looking like a new team, with Dentmon, Porat and Jacob Jaacks dominating the court for the home team. Meanwhile, Pnini was everywhere – dishing off to Perkins at the rim, grabbing a basket on an inbounds, and scoring from the charity stripe.
After three minutes Maccabi led by sixteen, 63 – 47.
But Dentmon, Jermaine Hall and Jaacks didn’t give up on offense, and Afula’s defense tightened the noose; Maccabi scored only six points in the second half of the period, while Afula narrowed their deficit to ten, 73 – 63 at the end of three periods.
Wisniewski with a bucket and one gave Maccabi some breathing room at the start of the fourth quarter, 76 – 63.
Perkins scored off an assist from Lasme and Pnini hit another shot from downtown, making it 81 – 63 before Afula woke up and began to take control.
Christmas had two three pointers, which brought the hosts within seven, 85 – 78 with four minutes left in the game.
Christmas continued to drive Afula’s offense, and with two and a half minutes left, tied the score at 85.
Anderson managed to send an amazing dish to Lasme while on his back on the floor, putting Maccabi up by two.
Dentmon missed one of two free throws, making it 87 – 86 with less than a minute left.
With 3.6 seconds left, game MVP Guy Pnini sent home two from the line to give Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv the win over Afula, 89 – 86.
Maccabi: Pnini 25 points, 6 rebounds; Lasme 12 points, 6 rebounds; Limonad 11 points; Perkins 9 points; Wisniewski 9 points, 6 assists; Fischer and Bluthenthal 6 points each; Eidson 5 points, 5 assists; Anderson 3 points, 5 assists; Sharp 2 points; Green 1 point.
Afula: Porat 20 points; Christmas and Dentmon 19 points each; Jaacks 8 points; Bradford and Hanochi 6 points each; Hall 4 points; Cohen 2 points; Cohen-Mintz 2 points.
After the game, MVP Guy Pnini, who had 25 points and a career-high 33 index points said, “We sort of fell asleep, and maybe we thought that we already had the game in the bag, but it shouldn’t have been this way.
We need to tip our hat to Afula.
They were aggressive and decisive, and they played really well in the second half.
We’re lucky that it happened today, and that we ended up winning.
We need to learn from what happened.”
When asked about the Euroleague quarterfinal games, Pnini replied, “We’re not thinking about Partizan Belgrade yet.”
Maccabi head coach Pini Gershon had a clear explanation for the game: “When you try to let the players rest and you are figuring out minutes, it doesn’t always work out.
The players on the bench, as well as those on the court, had an attitude of this being an easy win in the third quarter.
Not all of the player combinations I tired out were successful, but if you can’t try things out when you’re leading by 20 points, when can you?
So I have a part in what happened, and so do the players.
They threw some wild passes and didn’t run the plays.”
“Our players sign a contract to play only half of a game,” joked the disappointed coach Eli Rabi.
“It was fun to watch my players.
I count wins, not losses.
We’re fighting for our place in this league, and this game was a sort of wake-up call, telling us that we can be contenders.
We’re a team with a lot of ups and downs, which makes it hard for us to get to the highest levels.”