Cleveland Cavaliers defeat Maccabi Tel Aviv in exhibition gameץ.
(photo credit: NOAM GALAI/MACCABI TEL AVIV)
Despite seeing his Cleveland Cavaliers rout Maccabi Tel Aviv 107-80 in his first game at the helm of the NBA franchise, new Cavs coach David Blatt admitted on Sunday that he didn’t feel like a winner.
Blatt left Maccabi earlier this summer for a dream job in the NBA after guiding the yellow-and-blue to an unforgettable Euroleague triumph.
The game between Maccabi and Cleveland, which was branded as Jewish Community Night by the organizers, was arranged long before Blatt signed with the Cavs to become the first coach to make the leap from Europe to the NBA as a head coach.
However, it was somewhat fitting that Blatt began the new chapter in his career against the club he will forever be associated with, which explains why he felt little joy at beating the yellow-and-blue on Sunday.
“If you have a brother and you go to play outside on a basketball court, you’re dying to beat him, but if you do, you feel like crap,” Blatt said. “It doesn’t make you feel good. There was no way to really win that game. I just hoped that we could have a good match and both teams would get out of it what they wanted. More or less that’s what happened.”
Blatt was visibly nervous at the start of the game.
“I was nervous before the game, but not because it was the first time that I coached in an NBA environment, but because of the fact that I was playing against my friends,” he explained.
Maccabi initially remained close to the Cavs, even leading 8-5 following a Devin Smith three-pointer. However, the hosts went on a 10-0 run to seize control, although Maccabi remained within just six points (30-24) after 10 minutes. Nevertheless, Cleveland would build a 14-point gap (59-45) by halftime and cruised after the break, even though LeBron James remained on the bench throughout the second half.
“I thought in the first half, Maccabi played very well. I knew they would. I know their offense. I know the people involved,” said Blatt.
“Our rotation of players and our superior depth wore them down and that’s what you saw in the second half.”
Sylven Landesberg led Maccabi with 23 points, with Jeremy Pargo scoring 18 and Alex Tyus adding 13 points. Kyrie Irving had 16 points for the Cavs, with James finishing with 12 points in 19 minutes.
“You could tell he was very nervous, excited, kind of uptight and rightfully so,” James said of Blatt. “He has a lot of ties to that team, a lot of ties to that community, that city and that country. For it to be his first preseason game against his former team, I bet it was a lot on him. I don’t know how much he might have slept last night. But for us as players, we just tried to play as best we could for him and he was very excited after the game.”
Maccabi already trained in Brooklyn on Monday ahead of the second and last game of its pre-season NBA tour against the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night.
Maccabi is in desperate need of a confidence- boosting win to end a frustrating pre-season, but it is unlikely to get one against a far superior Nets roster.
After losing to Hapoel Jerusalem in the final of the Winner Cup two weeks ago, Tel Aviv suffered a shock defeat over two legs to Brazil’s Flamengo in the FIBA Intercontinental Cup.
The yellow-and-blue begins its local BSL campaign at Ironi Ness Ziona next Sunday before hosting Limoges of France in its Euroleague regular season opener next Thursday.
“We will do everything to be ready, both physically and mentally, for the start of the BSL and Euroleague campaigns,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes.
“We opened the game against the Cavs quite well, but we lost touch in the second half. We missed a lot of open shots and began chasing them.
“We need to increase our intensity levels, although we were facing a team of the highest level in Cleveland. We will not have to face such an opponent again this season.”