Maccabi Tel Aviv rediscovering its rhythm

Pair of victories in a row over Holon for yellow-and-blue • Eilat maintains slim 1st-place lead.

MACCABI TEL AVIV big man Othello Hunter throws down an alley-oop on a pass from John DiBartolomeo during the yellow-and-blue’s 100-81 victory over Holon .  (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
MACCABI TEL AVIV big man Othello Hunter throws down an alley-oop on a pass from John DiBartolomeo during the yellow-and-blue’s 100-81 victory over Holon .
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Following last Thursday’s Israel State Cup semifinal matchups that saw Maccabi Tel Aviv down Hapoel Holon 87-85 in a dramatic overtime affair and Maccabi Rishon Lezion defeat Hapoel Jerusalem 90-84, the Israeli basketball league was back in action over the weekend as the yellow-and-blue tipped off against the purples once again.
This time around, Maccabi Tel Aviv dominated Holon 100-81 as Chris Jones, Othello Hunter and Oz Blayzer and newcomer TJ Cline supplied the offense to run away with the 19-point victory.
The yellow-and-blue took a 46-36 advantage into the second half and never looked back as each time Holon attempted to cut the lead, Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad responded as it cruised to the victory.
Blayzer led the way with 19 points, while both Hunter and Jones didn’t miss a shot from the field as the pair scored 17 and 15 points, respectively, with Jones also adding nine assists in the win.
Isaiah Miles scored 18 points, CJ Harris added 14 points and Maxim De Zeeuw chipped in with 11 points for Holon in the loss.
“The players were very focused mentally as well as offensively and defensively, we deserved to win,” said a content Sfairopoulos. “We are still in line with all of our goals so far as we won the Winner Cup, we’re in the final of the State Cup and we are in first place in the league as well as still being in the hunt for the Euroleague playoffs. We will try hard to reach all of our goals.”
Cline who made his Maccabi debut with nine points and six assists, was all smiles following the game.
“It’s an honor to be here and it’s a privilege. I’ll give it my all and the team has done everything to make me feel like part of the family. These guys have played at a very high level, whether it’s the NBA and the Euroleague, and they made my job that much easier.”
Holon coach Stefanos Dedas put the loss on the tiredness of his players and staff.
“We paid with the lack of energy and everyone saw we were fatigued, physically we didn’t recover from the last game,” explained Dedas. “One of our players, Chris Johnson, came up sick in the middle of the game and Maccabi had three different imports than last game plus TJ Cline, so they were fresh.”
Tel Aviv got off to a fast start as Yovel Zoosman scored in the paint and from the outside, while Bryant, Hunter and Blayzer all added buckets to give the yellow-and-blue 13-3 lead midway through the first quarter.
Cline entered the game for his Maccabi debut and immediately dished a perfect no-look pass to Hunter, who put down a dunk. Miles and Guy Pnini hit three-pointers for Holon, however points by Dragan Bender and Cline gave the hosts a 25-13 lead after 10 minutes of play.
Cline continued with the hot hand and nailed a triple, as did Blayzer with a pair from deep and Jones added a layup to give Sfairopoulos’s squad a 36-18 advantage with 6:58 left in the second quarter.
Harris, Miles and Tyrus McGee put in points from the outside to cut the lead down to 38-30 with 3:30 remaining in the first half, but Jones with an off-balance basket and Cline scored as well to keep Maccabi in front 46-36 at halftime.
De Zeeuw opened up the third quarter with a mid-range jumper, but Blayzer stuffed him when the Belgian tried to dunk on him leading to an easy basket by Bryant, Jones added a three-point play and Hunter added points to give Maccabi a 57-42 lead midway through the frame.
John DiBartolomeo fed Hunter for an alley-oop, Jones went up the middle for an uncontested layup, Sandy Cohen hit a trio of triples as Miles, Harris and Oded Brandwein all scored but Dedas’s club went into the final period down 77-59.
Pnini, from downtown, McGee and De Zeeuw, with points inside, cut the Maccabi lead down to just eight points (81-73) with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Then  Blayzer scored from long distance, Hunter hit a turnaround in the paint and then a jam while Zoosman added a steal and a dunk while Jones kept scoring as the yellow-and-blue cruised to the win.
Meanwhile, Hapoel Eilat sunk Ness Ziona 89-84 thanks to a late 16-3 run to notch the road victory.
Brad Greenberg’s Ness Ziona came into the game riding a five-game winning streak as Tal Dunne, who just missed a triple-double, paced the hosts throughout the game.
But the trio of Casey Prather, Joe Ragland and Markel Brown were too strong down the stretch as the Red Sea city squad took the win.
Prather ended the game with 28 points, Ragland added 20 points and Brown chipped in with 18 points plus a 360-degree dunk in the victory.
Dunne scored 18 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out seven assists as Braian Angola scored 15 points for Ness Ziona in a losing cause.
Bnei Herzliya knocked off Hapoel Haifa 91-79 with a strong fourth quarter as it held the Carmel Reds to only 10 points to snatch the win.
Sharon Drucker’s Herzliya jumped out to a 26-15 lead after the opening frame, but Elad Hasin’s squad came right back as the sides kept it close for 30 minutes until the hosts played lockdown defense over the final 10 minutes to record the victory.
Elijah Thomas led the way with 19 points, Coty Clarke added 17 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists while Max Heidegger chipped in with 16 points for Herzliya.
Amit Simhon was the Haifa high scorer with 20 points as Keenan Evans and Rakeem Buckles scored 14 points apiece in the loss.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil beat an overmatched Ironi Nahariya 92-79 in the Galilee as six players scored in double digits to give their new head coach Avishay Gordon his third straight win.
After a fairly competitive first half in which the hosts led 44-39 after 20 minutes, Gilboa ripped off a 33-21 third-quarter run to take an insurmountable advantage and collect the victory.
Kerry Blackshear scored 19 points, Iftach Ziv added 16 points and nine rebounds while Isaiah Cousins chipped in with 16 points in the win. Michael Young led Nahariya with 21 points and Malik Newman scored 19 points in the loss.