Maccabi Tel Aviv moved back into the driving seat in its BSL semifinal series against Hapoel Eilat on Thursday, recording an emphatic 97-75 victory in Game 3 at Nokia Arena to take a 2-1 lead.
After suffering its first defeat as Euroleague champion in Eilat on Monday, Maccabi was desperate to avoid dropping to consecutive losses in a playoff series for the first time in club history.
Eilat was still within striking distance with 10 minutes to play (66-61), but Maccabi opened the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run to secure a comfortable win in Game 3.
Eilat’s only consolation is that it will host Game 4 on Monday, knowing that another home win will send the series to a decisive Game 5 at Nokia.
After falling ill and missing Game 2, Sofoklis Schortsanitis led six Maccabi players in double figures with 18 points in 15 minutes, including nine crucial points in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter.
“Sofo is a very important player for us,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “When we play without him the game has a different complexion.”
Tyrese Rice added 14 points for Maccabi, with Devin Smith finishing with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Terrico White had 16 points for Eilat.
Maccabi hit the ground running, opening an early 11-2 lead after a three-point play by Sylven Landesberg.
However, Eilat replied with an 11-1 run (13-12) and still held a one-point edge (20- 19) after 10 minutes.
The hosts were far more composed on the defensive end in the second period and a Guy Pnini three-pointer took their cushion to double digits (41-31) for the first time.
Maccabi still held a promising lead (44- 35) at the break and looked to be cruising to the victory after David Blu’s triple took the gap to 15 points (55-40). But Eilat never gave up the chase, forcing Blatt to call a timeout after Afik Nissim completed a 12-0 surge (55-52).
Tel Aviv was ahead by only five points (66- 61) with 10 minutes to play, but Sofo ensured the yellow-and-blue wrapped up the win at the start of the fourth quarter to bring his team within a single victory of the final.
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 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.
Earlier Thursday, Erez Edelstein announced that he is leaving Hapoel Tel Aviv after three seasons as the team’s head coach. Edelstein took over the fan-owned club in the 2011/12 season and immediately guided the side to promotion to the BSL. Despite its relatively small budget, Edelstein led the team to a fourth place finish in the regular season in 2013/14 before losing in the playoff quarterfinals for a second straight year. He was named as the coach of the Israel national team in March and chose to leave Hapoel despite having the option to continue and guide a club side while coaching the blue-and-white.