Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach Neven Spahija is targeting his first State Cup triumph in tonight’s final at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv against Hapoel Holon..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Even while experiencing its worst run in club history, Maccabi Tel Aviv continued to maintain its stranglehold on the State Cup.
Maccabi has not only gone three years without winning the Israeli championship, but it hasn’t even reached the BSL final since 2013/2014. Six head coaches, not including interim replacements, came and went over the past three seasons, as Maccabi went from being the perennial champion to a chronic underachiever.
The yellow-and-blue looked to change that ahead of this season with a complete overhaul that saw only one player return, as well as the signing of a new coaching staff.
The results so far have been encouraging, but before it tries to regain the league title and challenge for a place in the Euroleague Final Four in the continental playoffs, Tel Aviv wants to first ensure it retains the State Cup for another year.
Despite winning the last eight editions of the competition and not losing in the cup since December 2008 when it was defeated by Ironi Nahariya in the last-16, Maccabi enters Thursday’s final at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv as a very slight favorite, with its opponent Hapoel Holon playing arguably the most impressive basketball of any team in Israel so far this season.
Holon is in second place in the BSL standings, one game back of the yellow-and-blue, but beat Maccabi in their only meeting of the season to date two months ago.
Holon handed Tel Aviv its first BSL loss of the campaign, winning 93-89 at Yad Eliyahu.
Since dropping its first two BSL regular season games, Holon has played 17 times in local league and cup action and has lost only twice.
Its offensive play has been especially impressive, but Dan Shamir’s team proved that it knows how to win even on a night when its shots don’t drop as usual, beating Hapoel Jerusalem 76-67 in Monday’s semifinal despite going 8-of- 29 from three-point range. A 23-2 second-half run saw Holon open a 16-point gap (64-48) Jerusalem couldn’t erase.
Holon advanced to its first final since 2009 when it beat Maccabi Haifa for its one and only cup triumph, in what was also the last time Maccabi Tel Aviv didn’t take the title.
Maccabi trailed for large periods of its semi against Maccabi Ashdod, but a 12-0 fourth-quarter run would see it tough out a 76-73 victory.
Glen Rice Jr. led Holon on Monday with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, continuing his sensational play since arriving in Israel in October as a replacement for Jabril Trawick.
Rice Jr., the son of three-time NBA All-Star Glen Rice Sr., scored 28 points in Holon’s BSL win over Maccabi and leads the league with an average of 25.6 points per game.
Stopping Rice will likely be one of Tel Aviv’s top priorities.
Rice’s questionable conduct, the highlight of which so far this season saw him kicking the ball deep into the stands after being called for traveling when he thought he was fouled in a BSL game against Bnei Herzliya, is the only reason he is playing for Holon rather than at a big European club or in the NBA.