Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Devin Smith .
(photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
Despite dropping to just its fourth BSL defeat of the season at Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Saturday night, Maccabi Tel Aviv was anything but despondent.
Two days after Thursday’s crucial 73-64 win at Alba Berlin, which secured the yellow-and-blue’s place in the Euroleague Top 16 for a sixth straight year, and three days before the start of the quarterfinal series against Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, Saturday’s game in Rishon was hardly a top priority for Maccabi.
Even with the humbling 105-85 loss, Maccabi (23-4) maintains a comfortable lead at the top of the BSL standings, with Hapoel Jerusalem having the chance to close within three games with a win at Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday.
Maccabi visits Fenerbahce in Game 1 of the Euroleague quarterfinals on Tuesday, with Game 2 to be played in the Turkish capital on Thursday.
Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) will take place in Tel Aviv on April 20 and 22, with a decisive Game 5 to be played in Istanbul on April 28, should it be required.
Fenerbahce, led by legendary Serbian coach Zeljko Obradovic, ended Top 16 Group F in second place with an 11-3 record after beating Anadolu Efes Istanbul 83-72 on Thursday.
Maccabi needed to win in Berlin on Thursday to book its place in the last eight regardless of other results and it never trailed in the first half, leading by seven points (41-34) at the break. Alba pegged Tel Aviv back in the second half, with the score tied at 58-58 almost midway through the fourth period. However, Maccabi’s star forward Devin Smith, who signed a lucrative three-year contract extension earlier in the week, ensured the yellow-and-blue eked out the victory, ending the night with a career-high 28 points and seven rebounds, including seven three-pointers.
Smith was named as the co-MVP of round 14 of the Top 16 with Red Star Belgrade’s Boban Marjanovic, finishing with a performance index rating of 28.
“This game was important and crucial not just for the current roster but for the entire club,” said Smith. “Everyone gave their heart for Maccabi and it was clear to us that we wouldn’t leave Berlin without a win.”
Smith had 14 points in 19 minutes on Saturday, but Maccabi coach Guy Goodes decided to curtail his minutes in an attempt to keep the forward as fresh as possible for Fenerbahce.
Israeli guard Yogev Ohayon, Sofoklis Schortsanits and Brian Randle were also all rested, meaning Maccabi largely played with its second unit in Rishon.
The yellow-and-blue still had a one-point edge (23-22) after the first period, but Rishon made the most of Maccabi’s short roster to establish a double-digit gap (54-44) by the halftime interval and piled the misery on the visitors after the break.
Jackie Carmichael had 24 points for Rishon, which improved to 15-12, with Sylven Landesberg Tel Aviv’s top scorer with 17 points.
“Our main goal was that no one would get injured and we achieved that,” said Goodes. “We played with our second unit and that wasn’t easy. Sometimes you just have to live with these types of defeats.”
In other BSL action on Sunday, Hapoel Holon (14-12) hosts Hapoel Eilat (12-14). On Monday, Maccabi Haifa (12-14) visits Bnei Herzliya (11-15), Hapoel Gilboa/Galil (7-19) welcomes Ironi Nahariya (10-10) and Ironi Ness Ziona (13-13) faces Maccabi Ashdod (7-19).