Despite spending most of the week celebrating its Euroleague triumph, Maccabi Tel Aviv outclassed Hapoel Eilat 90-72 at Nokia Arena on Thursday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five BSL semifinal playoff series.
Maccabi led by just a single point (41-40) after a tight first half, but it required no more than a few minutes of the form that saw it claim the European title for the sixth time in club history earlier this week to clinch a victory in the series opener.
Eilat will hope to bounce back when it hosts Game 2 on Monday.
Defending-champion Maccabi Haifa snatched home-court advantage away from Hapoel Jerusalem in the other semifinal series on Thursday, humiliating the hosts 107-79.
Game 2 will be played in Haifa on Tuesday.
After three days of celebrations and chatting with the prime minister and president rather than practicing, it was hardly surprising the yellow-and-blue was slow out of the gate at Nokia Arena.
Guy Pnini’s three made sure the hosts had a five-point advantage (23-18) after 10 minutes, but a 10-2 Eilat surge saw the visitors move into a six-point lead (40-34) late in the first half.
Maccabi had the edge (41-40) entering the third quarter after scoring the final seven points of the first half and it gave Eilat no chance after the break.
An 11-2 run to begin the half increased the gap to double figures (52-42) and the yellow-and-blue was ahead by 12 points (65-53) with 10 minutes to play.
A David Blu triple took the margin past 20 points (74-53) early in the fourth frame, allowing Maccabi to cruise to the finish line.
Tyrese Rice led Maccabi once more with 17 points, with Ricky Hickman scoring 16 points and Sofoklis Schortsanitis finishing with 15.
Christian Watford had 17 points for Eilat.
At Malha, Haifa seized control at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. Despite only edging Ironi Ness Ziona by a single point in overtime in a decisive Game 5 in the quarterfinals on Monday, Haifa looked far fresher than the hosts and already led by eight points (25-17) entering the second period.
A Ben Rice basket early in the second frame took Haifa’s lead to double digits (33-22), but Bracey Wright and Yotam Halperin ensured Jerusalem kept in touch, with two free throws by the former brining Hapoel within five points (43-38).
However, Haifa would score 10 of the final 14 points of the half, with a Dagan Yavzuri three-pointer reestablishing a double-figure gap (53-42) at the break.
A Josh Duncan basket late in the third period cut Jerusalem’s deficit to seven points (62-55) and gave the local fans some hope that their team could mount a comeback. But the hosts would come no closer, with Haifa ending the quarter with an 11-2 run (74-57) to secure an emphatic road win with 10 minutes to play.
After scoring a career high 36 points at Malha earlier this season, Yavzuri was in superb form once more in the capital, leading Haifa with 25 points, hitting six of seven three-point attempts.
Donta Smith added 17 points, with Terrence Roderick netting 15 points for Haifa, which scored 34-of-46 two-point shots (74%) and 8-of-15 three-point attempts (53%).
Jerusalem learned on Wednesday that it will be without center Art Parakhouski until the end of the season due to injury and it was dominated under the baskets on Thursday, being outscored 58-16.
Halperin scored 18 points for Jerusalem, with Wright finishing with 17 points and Derwin Kitchen adding 15 points.
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