MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Keith Langford 311.
(photo credit: Reuters )
Maccabi Tel Aviv may have only gotten its Euroleague Top 16 campaign underway on
Thursday night, but its 84-76 win over Zalgiris Kaunas in Lithuania was a
crucial first step on the way to the quarterfinals.
With its last
meaningful Euroleague game coming five weeks ago, more than two weeks before new
playmaker Demond Mallet even joined the team, there were some question marks
hanging over the yellow-and-blue entering its Top 16 opener.
were answered impressively on Thursday, with Maccabi racing to an 11-point
half-time lead (48-37) before toughing out a tight fourth quarter for a vital
They played one good period, but we won the three other quarters
and were excellent for 30 minutes,” Maccabi coach David Blatt said. “We were
ready and sharp and played with a lot of passion to claim a win which everyone
understands is extremely important.”
Mallet had 15 points, including four
three pointers, in his Euroleague debut for Tel Aviv, with Lior Eliyahu scoring
14, reaching 1,000 points for his Euroleague career.
Keith Langford was
excellent with 12 points, seven assists and five rebounds, while Richard Hendrix
scored 11, and more importantly, was stellar on the defensive
Milovan Rakovic had 15 points for Kaunas, which to its credit never
gave up the chase.
Maccabi hosts Barcelona in its second Top 16 game next
week and Blatt admitted that Thursday’s win allows the team to calmly prepare
for the crunch affair.
It took Maccabi a few minutes to find its rhythm
in Lithuania, but when it did so, Zalgiris was helpless.
the ruthless touch he adds to Maccabi’s roster by hitting two straight
three-pointers to open a five-point margin (12-7) and another triple by Devin
Smith gave the visitors a 23-16 lead after 10 minutes.
A David Blu jumper
at the start of the second period extended the margin to double-digits (26-16),
prompting Kaunas coach Aleksandr Trifunovic to quickly call a
However, there was nothing the Serbian coach could do to get his
team to tighten its defense and Mallet’s three with 4:23 to play in the half
took Maccabi’s advantage to a record 15 points (39-24).
A Theo Papaloukas
basket in the dying seconds of the first half ensured the yellow-and-blue still
had a doublefigure cushion (48-37) at the break, but Maccabi would find points
very hard to come by in the third quarter, scoring just six in the first six
minutes of the second half.
Marko Popovic’s free throws capped a 7-0 run
which brought the hosts within four points (54-50), but Tel Aviv calmed the
local support by scoring eight of the next 10 points to reestablish a
doubledigit lead (62-52).
However, the game would be completely wide open
with 10 minutes to play, with Kaunas ending the third frame with a 9-2 surge to
cut the deficit to just three points (64-61).
A DeJuan Collins three at
the start of the fourth period closed the gap to just two points (66-64) and the
teams were still only separated by a single possession (71-69) after Popovic
matched Mallet’s three with 4:37 on the clock.
Maccabi and Kaunas
exchanged baskets for much of the subsequent minutes, with an acrobatic Langford
basket opening a 77-72 lead with 1:40 remaining.
The hosts wouldn’t come
back from that, with a crucial block by Hendrix followed by a point from the
line (80- 74) clinching the win.