Yellow-and-blue gets back to basics

Mac TA aims to continue Euroleague dominance atop Group A with a visit to Zalgiris.

December 2, 2010 06:41
3 minute read.
Maccabi Tel Aviv

Maccabi Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Basketball may well be a game of four quarters, but for Maccabi Tel Aviv it is the first periods which have decided the fate of its Euroleague encounters so far this season.

Maccabi was whitewashed 31-11 in the first 10 minutes of its Euroleague opener at Caja Laboral Vitoria in what turned out to be its only continental defeat of the season to date.

In its five games since, Tel Aviv has outscored its opponents in the opening quarter by an average 10.4 points (117- 65), going on to win each and every one of those contests on its way to the top of Group A.

Maccabi goes to Zalgiris Kaunas on Thursday night knowing another fast start, and subsequently a sixth straight victory, will go a long way to ensuring it ends the regular season in first position.

“The game against Zalgiris is very tough,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt, whose team beat the Lithuanians 86-70 at Nokia Arena five weeks ago.

“I’ve been at Maccabi long enough to remember the difficult games we’ve had in Kaunas and the fact that we lost there more times than we won. Zalgiris has yet to lose a home game this season and that tells you all you need to know of how difficult this game will be.”

After claiming 10 straight victories in all competitions, Maccabi’s winning streak came to surprising end at the hands of Bnei Hasharon at Nokia Arena on Sunday night.

Bnei Hasharon came back from an early deficit to defeat Tel Aviv 91-88, handing the yellow-and-blue its first loss of the BSL season and a reality check after an outstanding run.

“We played poorly against Bnei Hasharon and they played great,” explained Blatt, whose team leads the Euroleague with 81.5 points per game.

“That doesn’t happen every day. It wasn’t a nice feeling and it even hurt, but we need to know how to take the good with the bad and hopefully there will continue to be very little bad this season.”

The coach is confident his players will quickly rebound from Sunday’s disappointment.

“My players haven’t lost their confidence or will to win, which is something that can happen after disappointments,” Blatt said. “This season has so far been filled with highs and I was pleased to see that they are handling the defeat well. I was happy the team almost snatched the win from Bnei Hasharon towards the end. No one gives up in this team and we fight until the very end.”

Zalgiris enters Thursday’s game on the back of its second Euroleague loss of the season, a 68-62 defeat at Partizan Belgrade last week.

However, in its three home games to date, Kaunas has stopped its opponents on 68 points or less, and Aco Petrovic’s team has also proven it can score by outgunning Virotia 92-88 in Spain.

“I know Maccabi coach David Blatt very well from my time in Russia. I had many battles against his teams and it’s nothing new for me,” Petrovic said.

“Our sixth player this time will be our fans. They are simply great. We have to remember that Maccabi always plays better at home. However, this will be another hard game. I hope that this time we will want to win more than we did in Israel.

Victory is a real possibility. We just have to concentrate for the full 40 minutes.”

Tal Burstein, who has played an overlooked role in Maccabi’s recent success, said the team will take the loss to Bnei Hasharon in its stride. “It is always tough to play in Kaunas, especially when Zalgiris is in good shape,” Burstein said. “We never thought we would go through the season without a defeat. It is only natural we will occasionally lose and we are not getting too worked up about it.

We are facing a young and talented team in Zalgiris so we will have to be at our best both defensively and offensively to get the win.”

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