After suffering its first defeat as Euroleague champion, Maccabi Tel Aviv knows it will have to rebound immediately on Thursday night or it will be on the verge of going two consecutive seasons without winning the Israeli league title, something which hasn’t happened in 48 years.
Hapoel Eilat leveled the BSL best-of-five semifinal series against Maccabi at 1-1 on Monday with an 81-71 victory in Israel’s southernmost city. Tel Aviv’s players lacked desire and determination in Game 2, with the Final Four weekend in Milan and the many subsequent days of celebrations finally catching up with them in Eilat.
The yellow-and-blue, which beat Eilat 90-72 in Game 1 at Nokia last week, at least enjoyed two much-needed days of rest and training ahead of Thursday’s encounter and team manager Nikola Vujcic is confident Maccabi will recover after being brought back down to earth.
“We were probably slightly tired because of everything that has been going on,” explained Vujcic. “We expected a performance like this at some stage and we felt this defeat was coming.”
Despite hitting just 3-of-17 three-point attempts (18%), Eilat prevailed in Game 2 after grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and committing just seven turnovers.
Eilat took advantage of the absence of sick Maccabi center Sofoklis Schortsanitis, dominating the paint. Sofo will be back on Thursday, but Tel Aviv will be without Israeli guard Yogev Ohayon, who tore ligaments in his ankle in Game 2 and will be out for at least a week, and possibly until the end of the season.
“Maccabi is a different team with or without Sofo,” said Eilat forward Elishay Kadir, who has stepped up his play in the playoffs, averaging 13.8 points and 5.2 rebounds.
“Clearly it is easier for us when Sofo isn’t there, but we will find a way to stop him.
Maccabi is an amazing team, but we are looking forward to the challenge of trying to steal a win at Nokia.”
Eilat may have to manage without coach Oded Katash on Thursday, with his father passing away just several hours after Game 2.
On Friday, Maccabi Haifa will aim to secure its progress to the BSL final when it visits Hapoel Jerusalem at Malha Arena in Game 3 of their semifinal series.
Haifa humbled Jerusalem 107-79 in Game 1 at Malha to snatch home-court advantage away from the No. 2 seed and impressed once more in an 82-70 win in Game 2 at Romema Arena on Tuesday to take a 2-0 lead in the series.
Only two teams have come back from a 0-2 deficit to win a series since the format was introduced in Israel in the 1989/90 season. Jerusalem coach Brad Greenberg looked far from confident that his side will be the next to do so with three straight wins over the next week.
“We are not playing at the same level we were playing earlier in the year,” said Greenberg. “We have to summon it up somehow and win a home game. We have to figure out a way to get it done.”
Jerusalem’s Josh Duncan, who has been forced to shoulder extra responsibility following the season-ending injury to center Art Parakhouski, will have an even heavier load to carry on Friday, with Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu being ruled out for the season on Wednesday after breaking a thumb.
“We are just not playing well,” he said.
“Obviously we are not in a situation we would like to be in, but all we can do is focus on the next game at home and try and get something going.”