A season that opened with tempered expectations and a hint of uncertainty for
Maccabi Tel Aviv ended with a return to historical normalcy on Thursday night,
as the yellow- and-blue added a 49th national title to its name, defeating
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 91-64 in the Final Four championship game at Nokia
The evening could not have unfolded any differently compared to a
year ago, when Gilboa shocked Maccabi 90-77 on the same floor to win its second
That loss precipitated a fundamental shakeup beneath
Maccabi chairman Shimon Mizrahi. David Blatt replaced Pini Gershon at the helm,
and a new lineup, based around big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis and ex-Gilboa
point guard Jeremy Pargo, signaled a shift in philosophy towards team defense
and driving and dishing.
Blatt navigated around the
loss of renaissance man Doron Perkins in March and, combined with its State Cup
victory over Barak Netanya, gave Tel Aviv its first double since 2005/06 and
Thursday night didn’t go as smoothly for the top seed as
its 100- 77 semifinal win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Tuesday, as it only
pulled away for good late in the third. But one couldn’t find yellow-clad fans
complaining when the final buzzer sounded on the 2010/11 season.
shot 58 percent while limiting its counterpart to 39 percent.
was named Final Four MVP and hit five of Maccabi’s 13 threes on Thursday,
finishing with a team-high 19 points. Pargo contributed nine points and 10
assists, while Sofo was limited to nine points in 10 foul-plagued
Courtney Fells was single-handedly responsible for keeping
Gilboa within striking distance until midway through the third quarter. The
swingman hit all five of his first-half threes and finished with 25 points in a
performance that had Maccabi supporters dreaming of seeing him in yellow and
blue next season.
Earlier Thursday, Hapoel Jerusalem booked itself a
Eurocup berth for the second straight year by downing Maccabi Rishon Lezion
94-74 in the third-place game.
Jerusalem’s backcourt duo of Yuval Naimi
and Jason Rich combined for 45 points, while Aaron McGhee had 21 points and 11
boards in a losing cause.
Rishon led most of the first half, but a late
Jerusalem run at the end of the second quarter gave the Reds a 45-37 lead at the
Rishon was still in striking distance at 73-65 with a little over
five minutes remaining, but back-to-back turnovers led to six quick Jerusalem
points, and the Reds maintained a double-digit advantage until the end, ensuring
Oded Katash’s turbulent first year at the capital ended with something to smile
Nevertheless, rumors swirled Thursday that Katash, who guided
Gilboa to last year’s championship, may soon be on his way out of Jerusalem,
despite being only one year into a three-year contract.
Maccabi Tel Aviv
91, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 64 Blatt’s gameplan was clear from the start – feed Sofo
The big Greek scored on Tel Aviv’s first two possessions, and
then drew two double-teams that led to two Blu three-pointers. Before Gilboa
could take a breath, it was 10-0 and Nokia was rocking.
But Gilboa coach
Lior Lubin took an important timeout, settled his troops, and the northerners
quieted the crowd with eight of the next 11 to trail 13-8.
hold down the hosts for much longer, however – two more Blu threes bookended a
9-0 run, and down 24-13 after 10 minutes, Gilboa looked
Defense ruled the early part of the second stanza, but Tel
Aviv’s much more so. Gilboa went over four minutes without a point while Maccabi
scored eight in that span to lead 32-13.
The last of Fells’s five
first-half threes got the northerners to within 10 (42- 32) with halftime a
But the hosts got the last laugh of the half when Milan
Macvan hit Guy Pnini (11 points) with an outlet pass, and the Maccabi veteran’s
buzzer-beating three gave it a boost heading into the locker room, up
Tel Aviv was sloppy to begin the third, as possessions were ending
more often with turnovers as opposed to shots, and a Marco Killingsworth layup
had Gilboa within eight (47-39).
But every time the visitors seemed to
get their bearings straight, it was only a matter of seconds until a Maccabi
three swished through the hoop.
Threes from Pnini, Blu, and Tal Burstein,
as well as some nifty maneuvering in the paint from Chuck Eidson, fueled a 16-5
run, and Maccabi led 63-44 with 13 minutes to play.
Lubin managed to keep
the lead from growing, but down 65-47 entering the final frame, Gilboa’s hopes
Fells stayed red hot as the minutes ticked away, but his
teammates simply didn’t display the sense of urgency necessary to stage a
comeback in a raucous stadium.
The dagger came with five minutes to go,
when Eidson stroked a transition three to give Tel Aviv an 81-58
One minute later, Eidson was on the bench and Derrick Sharp, in his
16th season at Maccabi, entered the game to celebrate his 13th
It’s unclear whether Sharp, who finished with two points at
the line, will return, after his one-year contract expired following the final
But Maccabi’s win restored a modicum of order to the Israeli
basketball world, and one gets the sense that something special is blossoming in