(photo credit: AP)
It may have taken a while, but Maccabi Tel Aviv finally recorded its first convincing victory of the Euroleague season on Thursday night, defeating Aris Thessaloniki 85-70 at the Nokia Arena.
After six inconsistent and often horrid displays in European play, Maccabi dominated an opponent for the first time under new coach Oded Katash on Thursday, leading throughout the entire encounter.
Tel Aviv opened a quick 10-0 lead and, after holding Aris to just 30 points in the first half, never looked back.
Maccabi (5-2), which has now won seven straight European home games and 22 of its last 23, will be especially pleased with its defensive effort in the first half as well as with the fact that it dominated Aris under the baskets, out-rebounding the visitors 34 to 19.
Much maligned forward David Bluthenthal led the hosts with 20 points and eight rebounds, scoring a perfect seven of seven from two-point range.
"I was able to get the ball at the right spots and I made the shots," Bluthenthal said after the game. "I hope this is a turning point in our season. Although, maybe last Sunday was the turning point. We had three good practices since the loss to Bnei Hasharon on Sunday and we put on a show tonight."
Terrence Morris added 18 points and nine rebounds, with Marcus Fizer scoring 12 points in 14 minutes on court. Bracey Wright scored 19 points for Aris, with Jeremiah Massey and Terrel Castle adding 13 and 10 points respectively.
Katash was pleased with his team's display. "I think the last week was very important to us," he said. "Tonight was the first time this season I enjoyed myself and I think that the players also had fun."
Maccabi displayed the hustle and urgency it had lacked so far this season at the start of the game. Six points by Bluthenthal and four by Fizer gave the team a quick 10-0 lead.
Lazaros Tsaldaris's two points with two minutes remaining in the quarter brought the visitors within five (18-13). Yotam Halperin's three-pointer and Morris's basket to end the period opened a nine-point lead after 10 minutes (23-14) and Maccabi was in total control.
Vonteego Cummings's three to start the second period was a sign of things to come as the hosts mercilessly crushed Aris's resistance. Bluthenthal's basket opened a 30-15 lead and his triple four minutes into the quarter increased the margin to 18 points (37-19).
The introduction of Esteban Batista injected even further energy into an already fired-up Maccabi side and helped the team open an unassailable lead by halftime. The Uruguayan teamed-up superbly with Morris and the hosts were ahead 47-24 after Batista finished off another excellent team move.
Tel Aviv's 50-30 halftime lead dwindled in the third quarter as Aris began to find its rhythm on offense.
Wright's two points midway through the quarter cut the Greeks deficit to 11 points (56-45) and Castle's three with one-and-a-half minutes remaining in the period brought the visitors back within 10 points (60-50).
Maccabi took a 12 point cushion (65-53) into the final 10 minutes of the encounter and was never under any threat of losing its double-digit lead.
Halperin's steal and lay-up with four minutes remaining in the game opened a 76-59 advantage and Fizer's basket soon after clinched Tel Aviv its first comfortable win of the season.
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