Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Gal Mekel.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv got life under Ainars Bagatskis off to a winning start on Monday, beating Maccabi Rishon Lezion 93-84 in BSL action.
Maccabi maintained its hold on first place in the standings, improving to 10-2, but almost squandered a big lead yet again and gave the Latvian plenty to mull over.
Bagatskis inherited a team in the midst of its worst ever Euroleague run, with Maccabi dropping to its fifth consecutive defeat in continental action on Friday, losing to David Blatt’s Darussafaka.
Maccabi is hoping Bagatskis’s tenure lasts longer than those of Erez Edelstein, who was sacked just five games into the season, and Rami Hadar, who resigned after less than two months as his replacement.
While the win over Rishon was encouraging, Bagatskis’s first true test will come in Thursday’s Euroleague game at Baskonia Vitoria in Spain.
The game against Baskonia will mark the halfway point of the regular season. Maccabi had never previously lost five Euroleague games in a row until last Friday, falling four games below .500 (5-9) with the defeat in Turkey.
Maccabi slid to 14th place out of 16 teams in the standings, but is still only two games back of eighth position, which will lead to the playoffs at the end of the regular season.
“The most important thing today was to win,” said Bagatskis.
“We can forget about our performance though. We played well for the first 25 minutes, but then made mistakes and almost allowed them back into the game.”
Sylven Landesberg led Maccabi with 21 points, with Colton Iverson adding 20 points.
Charles Thomas had 22 points for Rishon, which fell to 6-5.
“We got off to a good start and I like his coaching style,” said Iverson. “We are under a lot of pressure right now and he brings some calm to the team.”
Maccabi took an early lead on Monday, but Rishon remained close by, trailing by two points (21-19) after one quarter. There was little to separate the teams in the second period, with Andrew Goudelock’s three-pointer to end the first half giving the yellow- and-blue a slender six-point cushion (47-41).
It didn’t seem that significant at the time, but Goudelock’s trey was the start of a 12-0 Tel Aviv run, opening a double-digit gap (56- 41) at the start of the third frame.
The margin reached 20 points (68-48) with three-and-a-half minutes to play, but Rishon never lost hope. The defending champ began the fourth quarter down by 11 points (72-61) and continued to chip away at the deficit.
Avi Ben-Shimol’s three made it a four-point game (74-70) with seven minutes to play, raising serious concerns among the Maccabi fans that their team was about to squander another big cushion.
Maccabi lost its previous BSL game to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil despite leading by 14 points with six minutes to play and dropped an 18-point gap against CSKA Moscow and a 19-point margin at Darussafaka in its past two Euroleague setbacks.
However, there would be no repeat of those capitulations on Monday, with Tel Aviv responding with an 11-2 surge to put the game to bed.