Maccabi Rishon Lezion center Charles Thomas (center) scores two of his team-high 18 points in last night’s 97-73 win over Hapoel Eilat in the BSL playoffs. .
(photo credit: DANNY MAARON)
Maccabi Tel Aviv is on course to become the first team to advance to the BSL Final Four after cruising to a 2-0 lead over Bnei Herzliya on Sunday night, while defending champion Maccabi Rishon Lezion proved it has no intention of surrendering its title without a fight.
Tel Aviv continued its impressive play under new coach Arik Shivek, crushing Herzliya 89-63 on the road after also claiming a straight-forward victory in the series opener last week in what was Shivek’s first game in charge.
Shivek replaced Ainars Bagatskis two weeks ago following the completion of the regular season, becoming the team’s fourth coach of 2016/17. The Latvian was only appointed last December, with Rami Hadar resigning following less than two months at the helm after beginning the season as an assistant coach to Erez Edelstein, who was fired after only two Euroleague games.
Maccabi looked lost after dropping eight of its final 10 regular season games under Bagatskis, falling to fourth place in the standings. The yellow-and-blue has seemed reinvigorated since Shivek’s appointment, with the former Israel national team coach finally getting the roster to display the effort and intensity it so desperately lacked in recent months.
“We have been working hard since I’ve arrived and I’m happy that it is showing,” said Shivek. “We mainly focused on the basics and that has been the biggest difference during my time here.”
Sunday’s Game 2 was already all but decided in the first quarter.
Maccabi outscored Herzliya 20-4 in the final five minutes of the period to open a 17-point gap (31-14) after 10 minutes.
The closest Herzliya would come after that was 11 points (43-32), with Tel Aviv leading 52-34 at the break and taking its gap beyond 30 points in the second half.
Quincy Miller led five Maccabi players in double figures with 19 points and eight rebounds. D.J. Seeley added 17 points for the yellow-and-blue, which can wrap up a sweep when it hosts Game 3 on Thursday.
“We are having fun,” said Miller. “We are finally playing the way we should have always been playing.”
Brandon Triche scored 16 points for the short-handed Herzliya.
After losing a tight series opener in Eilat, Rishon exploded on Sunday, tying the series at 1-1 with a 97-73 victory. A 12-2 run opened a 15-point gap (41-26) with three minutes to play in the first half and the hosts never looked back. Rishon was ahead by 14 points (47-33) at halftime and maintained a double-digit margin throughout the second half.
Charles Thomas led five Rishon players in double figures with 18 points. Chanan Colman had 13 points for Eilat, which lost Rafi Menco to an ankle sprain that could keep him out for the remainder of the series. Eilat hosts Game 3 on Thursday.
Game 4 will be played in Rishon next week.
“I expected us to fight and that we would be first to every loose ball,” said Rishon coach Shmulik Brenner. “We wanted to show more heart than we did in Game 1, but this is only one win. Every series has a life of its own. Part of the beauty of a series is that a 30-point win is just like a one-point win. The margin is meaningless.
We still have to win at least one game in Eilat.”