Pivotal pair of Euroleague games for Maccabi

With an elusive playoff berth within reach, resurgent Tel Aviv is set to take on Panathinaikos and ASVEL.

 AVI EVEN has been the interim coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv for just over a month now and the yellow-and-blue is responding to him in both continental and local play. (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN/COURTESY)
AVI EVEN has been the interim coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv for just over a month now and the yellow-and-blue is responding to him in both continental and local play.

Maccabi Tel Aviv heads into one of its most critical Euroleague weeks in recent history as it looks to punch its ticket to the postseason, which it hopes to participate in for the first time since 2015.

Last week, the Euroleague administration voted to exclude the three Russian teams – CSKA Moscow, Zenit St. Petersburg and UNICS Kazan – from the standings due to the ongoing conflict with Ukraine. That meant that the yellow-and-blue’s 1-3 record against those squads was taken off its overall record, moving Maccabi all the way up from 12th place to sixth place overnight. Add to that a pair of massive home victories over Milano and Real Madrid this past week and Maccabi now sports a record of 13-11 with four games left in the regular season.

On Tuesday, interim coach Avi Even’s squad heads to Greece for a date with 14th-place Panathinaikos, which has foundered all season long but usually put on a good show against Maccabi.

Following the trip to Athens, the yellow-and-blue comes right back home for a tilt against 13-place ASVEL Villeurbanne.

With two strong performances, Maccabi could clinch a postseason spot with two games to spare and taste the quarterfinals for the first time since Guy Goodes was the head coach. Back in the 2019/20 campaign, the Israeli squad did in fact advance to the postseason but due to the COVID-19 pandemic the season was canceled in March and the playoffs did not occur.

 HAPOEL HOLON guard Niv Misgav (right) drives to the basket during his team’s 88-82 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday night in Israel Winner League action. (credit: DANNY MARON) HAPOEL HOLON guard Niv Misgav (right) drives to the basket during his team’s 88-82 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday night in Israel Winner League action. (credit: DANNY MARON)

Last week, Maccabi pounded Milano 75-58 with big men Ante Zizic and Jalen Reynolds dominating the inside of the paint and playing a central role in the victory. On Thursday, Tel Aviv slipped by visiting Madrid 75-74 in frantic fashion, going on a 10-0 run over the last 5:41 of the game to snatch the win away at the last moment thanks to clutch Scottie Wilbekin free throws.

“I like to deal with the here and now and not speculation,” downplayed Even when asked about the playoffs. “We still have other games to play to get into the playoffs and we are showing character. If we continue like this, we will get there and we can be a legitimate playoff team.”

Forward Derrick Williams feels that Maccabi is a legitimate Final Four threat.

“Ya, I think that. We have the roster and fan base and we have everything. Fans, team and a little bit of everything to get to the Final Four. We want to take it one day at a time and we have an important road game coming up at Panathinaikos. It was a great double week for us and now we have to get ready for this week.”

Wilbekin was much more reserved when queried about the playoffs.

“I don’t know, we will see. We’re getting closer to the end of the season and we will see soon.”

Both Milano and Madrid have already clinched playoff berths and will have home advantage in a best-of-five quarterfinal series.

Maccabi will need to be careful with its upcoming games by not letting its guard down against two of the weaker teams in the competition to clinch a postseason place that less than a week ago seemed to be unrealistic.

The Israeli powerhouse can’t afford to look this gift horse in the mouth.

Meanwhile, in local Winner League action, Ness Ziona defeated Hapoel/Gilboa Galil 81-71 to get back on the winning track after falling to Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Lior Lubin’s squad jumped out in front early as Frank Bartley, Tim Soares and Tal Dunne dictated the pace to cruise to the 10-point win. Bartley led the way with 22 points, Soares added 19 points and 11 rebounds while Dunne – who had been benched the last couple of games – chipped in with a well-rounded performance of 13 points, six boards and five assists in the win. Michael Brisker scored 16 points, Ronnie Harrell added 12 points and Yotam Hanochi scored 11 points for Gilboa in the loss.

“This was obviously a very important game for us,” said Bartley. “Everyone was focused and came ready to play. We’ll need that same mindset again for our next game. As for Tal, he is our leader. When he’s playing and in good spirits, he adds another dynamic to our team and raises everyone’s level of play with his play and IQ. We’re going to need everyone to get healthy and even more focused so that we can finish the regular season how we want to and keep it in our control.”

Up north, Hapoel Galil Elyon drubbed Hapoel Holon 99-78 as five of the Galilee players finished in double figures.

The hosts jumped all over Holon early on as newcomer DJ Kennedy and Nimrod Levi led the way to take a 46-32 lead into halftime. Chavaughn Lewis and Bryce Washington continued to score for the Galil Elyon, while Frederic Bourdilon and Tyrus McGee tried to keep the game close to no avail as Barak Peleg’s squad crushed to the 21-victory.

Levi led the way with 23 points and 10 rebounds, Kennedy added 17 points and Lewis chipped in with 13 points in the win. Bourdillon (24 points) and McGee (14 points) paced Goodes’s Holon side in the loss.

“I felt good going into this game and we have to acknowledge that Holon has a very tough schedule,” Peleg explained. “We really needed this win after losing a number of games recently and it gave us some confidence.”

Down south, Hapoel Haifa dunked all over Hapoel Beersheba in an 80-53 rout as Scottie James scored at will for the Carmel Reds to take the victory and move closer to a playoff position.

James and Kadeem Allen paced Haifa over the course of the first half as visitors grabbed a 47-30 by the break.

Elad Hasin’s squad continued to pour on the offense while limiting the hosts to just 23 second-half points to take the critical win. James led the way with 25 points, Allen added 17 points and Amit Simhon chipped in 12 points in the win. Cody Demps scored 20 points and Amit Suss added 13 points for Beersheba in the defeat.

Also, Hapoel Eilat sunk Maccabi Rishon Lezion 84-77 as the Red Sea City squad picked up a much-needed win to move further away from the relegation zone while the wine city side moved precariously closer to playing in the second division next season.

Bryon Allen and Toney Douglas gave Ariel Beit Halachmi’s Eilat squad a quick lead, but Archie Goodwin caught fire and led Dror Cohen’s team on a 12-0 run to end the first half in the lead 40-35.

However, Rishon’s advantage was short-lived as Tzuf Ben Moshe and Noam Avivi caught fire while Douglas put the finishing touches on the victory.

Douglas led Eilat with 25 points, Allen added 22 points and Ben Moshe chipped in with 13 points in the win. Goodwin led all scorers with 28 points and Netanel Artzi scored 12 points for Eilat in a losing cause.