Maccabi Tel Aviv 88.
(photo credit: )
Maccabi Tel Aviv has advanced to the Winner Cup final, following a 78-67 win over Ironi Nahariya on Wednesday evening at the Malha Arena. Tel Aviv will now face Hapoel Jerusalem, which thrashed Afula Gilboa 95-68.
Oded Katash had to manage without the injured Will Bynum and Tal Burstein, but got the most out of his deep rotation.
"We made a great start to the game," Katash said in a post game interview. "My players lost focus in the second quarter and let them back into the game. But I'm sure we'll get better as the season goes on."
In the second semifinal, Dan Shamir's Jerusalem had little trouble getting the better of Afula Gilboa.
Fan favorite Guy Pnini powered the Reds with his trademark defense and an outstanding 26 point performance.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 78,
Ironi Nahariya 67
Oded Katash elected to play his strongest lineup in order to cement his rotation for the regular season. Nicola Vujcic started his second straight game, with new acquisitions Marcus Fizer and David Bluthenthal filling the forward spots.
After a shaky start by both teams, Bluthenthal got his act together from beyond the arch. The American-Israeli sharpshooter made four three-pointers to lead the yellow-and-blue to a 27-14 lead at the end of the first period.
To make matters worse for Nahariya, Otis Hill collected his third foul at the start of the second quarter. But Ashante Johnson produced brilliant minutes in offense and helped his side cut the deficit to 39-41 at halftime.
Tel Aviv failed to impress after the interval, as Nahariya switched to a zone defense. Despite the poor shooting and lack of offensive boards, the reigning champion held on to a slim 57-54 lead at the start of the final period.
But the final minutes were dominated by Katash's team, which clearly enjoyed a deeper rotation and fresher legs. Vujcic powered Tel Aviv to a strong 10-0 run which ended Nahariya's chances of making a comeback.
Matan Naor collected his fifth foul with 2:24 on the clock and left his side with no real offensive threat. The former Hapoel Jerusalem star finished with 7 points and failed to impress. Tel Aviv raced away to a comfortable 78-67 win.
Bluthenthal led the way for Maccabi with a game-high 19 points, which included a total of five three-pointers. Vonteego Cummings produced 15 points. Fizer and Vujcic scored nine points each, with the latter adding 11 boards.
Hapoel Jerusalem 95,
Afula Gilboa 68
Jerusalem opened the game with a quick 8-2 run and played an efficient up-tempo game. Sharon Sason and Guy Pnini made numerous uncontested baskets, powering the hosts to a convincing 48-38 halftime lead.
Afula Gilboa failed to stop the tide in the second half as Jerusalem kept on increasing its lead, to the joy of a sold-out Malha crowd. The Reds kept moving the ball around and finding the open man, racing away to a 75-49 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Both coaches opted to play their substitutes in the final minutes, with the Jerusalem reserves providing some impressive dunks and slick moves. New signing Ramel Curry finished with 17 points as the Reds registered a 95-68 blowout win.
"I'm happy with the team's overall performance," Shamir commented. "But we must remember that it's only a preseason game. We brought in many new players over the summer and some of them are still adjusting to our system."
"I don't see myself as the team leader," a humble Pnini said after the win. "There are many experienced players on our roster. Its a team effort. We played well today, but there is still room for improvement. The game against Maccabi Tel Aviv won't be easy."