Maccabi Tel Aviv battled the New York Knicks in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden for the second time in two years on Sunday night, but once again the perennial Israeli champ was unable to match up to NBA opposition, ultimately falling 106-91.
The game was attended by significantly fewer spectators than the Knicks' 112-85 victory in 2007, but still featured a boisterous crowd cheering for the yellow and blue, and a surprising display by coach Pini Gershon, who refused to leave the court for 10 minutes after being ejected in the third quarter.
Despite the convincing victory, Knicks rookie guard Joe Crawford was impressed with what he saw of the Israeli squad.
"They are a pretty good team," Crawford told The Jerusalem Post. "The NBA team is always going to be deeper, but they did a good job of hanging with us."
The Knicks' first round 2009 draft pick echoed Crawford's sentiments, praising Maccabi's athleticism.
"It was a good matchup," Jordan Hill said. "They are gonna go far in their league, they have good things up ahead for them."
Maccabi defeated Olimpija Ljubljana on Thursday in the first game of the Euroleague season and will open its BSL campaign against Maccabi Haifa next Sunday. But Gershon's team will first have to face another NBA side in the shape of the LA Clippers in another exhibition in Los Angeles on Tuesday before returning home.
Nate Robinson underlined his importance for the Knicks on Sunday, scoring 19 points on six of 13 from the field and four three-pointers.
D'or Fischer was the star for Maccabi with 19 points and 16 rebounds on five for seven shooting and a superb nine out of ten free throws.
Tel Aviv came out strong at the start of the game, taking a quick four to nothing lead on a Maciej Lampe jump shot. But New York's Jared Jeffries responded with two quick three pointers to take the lead and the Knicks never looked back.
Although Maccabi kept the score close for much of the first two quarters, the Knicks quickly took advantage of missed opportunities by the Israeli squad.
After closing the deficit to three points at 30-27, Maccabi missed three straight free throws which sparked a 10-0 run before the bleeding stopped.
The run led to a 56-35 halftime score, which proved to be too steep to overcome.
While Maccabi matched up as well as possible with the NBA squad and did not show any signs of nerves playing on the big stage, it became clear as the game progressed that Maccabi's conditioning was nowhere near New York's level.
Although Maccabi outran the Knicks to begin the game, the players' legs grew visibly heavy by the third quarter and they were slow getting back and rotating on defense.
This was no surprise, as the team arrived from Israel on Saturday.
At the 5:58 mark in the third quarter, Gershon was assessed a technical foul after arguing calls with replacement referee Ben Taylor.
Nearly a minute later, New York forward and former all-star Al Harrington was called for an offensive foul and threw the ball at Taylor, before turning around and barking in Taylor's face.
While the combination of the two acts should have at the very least resulted in a technical, Harrington was not reprimanded for the outburst.
Gershon got in Taylor's face as a result, asking why Harrington was not given a technical, and Taylor quickly ejected him.
What followed was an unbelievable display that shocked fans and players alike. Gershon refused to leave the floor, ultimately causing a ten-minute delay which included the mediation of Maccabi chairman Shimon Mizrahi and a local rabbi.
"I didn't know what was going on," Knicks star, forward David Lee said after the game.
"They have a good coaching staff and a good team, and they did a good job of resolving it. I'm glad that rabbi was sitting in the first row."
Although the ejection and subsequent refusal to leave the court sparked Maccabi, the deficit was too large and they were never able to cut it under 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Conditioning was clearly a factor and something the coaching staff will need to address as they get into their BSL and Euroleague schedule in the coming weeks.
Additionally, Maccabi's interior defense was sorely lacking along with its transition defense, which gave up 20 fast-break points.
"It was a good game," Maccabi Chairman Shimon Mizrahi told the Post after the game.
"Obviously the Knicks are on another level, but it was a good fight and we kept it close for most of the game. We are used to a shorter game in the Euroleague - we play eight fewer minutes than they play over there.
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