Maccabi Tel Aviv's Sofoklis Schortsanitis scores 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv overcame a lackluster Panathinaikos Athens effort on Thursday night to claim a 75-68 victory in Euroleague action at Nokia Arena.
Maccabi knew full well going into the contest that if it has aspirations of European glory, this would be the game to prove its credentials.
A home fixture against a Panathinaikos side that is billed as Maccabi’s fiercest competitor for top berth in Group D would certainly make a statement.
Even though Maccabi came in on a run of wins, both domestically and internationally, critics were suggesting that it had not done so in the most convincing of ways.
Wins against Lietuvos Rytas Vilnius and Bnei Herzliya were tight affairs, against teams that, on paper, should have been easier feats.
On Thursday, though, the yellow-and-blue had the upper hand during most of the game, sustaining a comfortable advantage and limiting Panathinaikos’ offensive play.
It was a hard-fought game by two teams intent on making each other sweat for points.
Tel Aviv’s Sofokolis Schortsanitis and Shawn James defended well in the paint and were instrumental in Maccabi keeping Pana at a low score throughout the game.
David Blu and Joe Ingles led the line for Maccabi scoring 14 points each, with Ricky Hickman contributing further 13 points, James 12 points and Sofo netting eight points.
Maccabi failed to take advantage of its early momentum, missing two easy lay-ups, but Panathinaikos wasn’t able to capitalize, as Tel Aviv grew more comfortable as the game progressed and opened an eleven-point margin (23-12), thanks to a 14-2 run, with a minute left in the first quarter.
Sofo had a point to prove against his former team, and hustled at both ends of the court.
The second quarter was a scrappy affair, with both sides conceding plenty of turnovers and missing easy shots.
Maccabi held onto its lead as the first half ended, at the relatively low score of 36-29.
It took Panathinaikos three minutes to record its first basket of the second half, allowing Maccabi to increase the margin to twelve points (31-43).
An Ingles three was followed by four points of the effective Shawn James (41-29).
Another Ingles three was instantly replied to with a Jonas Machiulis one, to set the score 50-40.
Sofo, with a combative display, was Maccabi’s main offensive outlet, establishing complete domination of the paint, and ensuring Maccabi went into the last quarter with a nine-point cushion (56-47).
Panathinaikos managed to reduce the deficit to 60-54, however, three-pointers by Blu and Ingles took Maccabi to 66-57.
With two minutes to go, a Michael Bramos triple, was responded with a James dunk, which put the game beyond Panathinaikos, as from there on, Maccabi cruised to 75-68.
Earlier on Thursday night, it was announced that former Maccabi captain Lior Eliyahu had agreed with Hapoel Jerusalem on a three-year contract.