Euroleague Basketball: Maccabi seeks revenge against Vitoria
Euroleague Basketball M
By ALLON SINAI
Maccabi Tel Aviv will be looking to avenge its only defeat of the season so far when it hosts Caja Laboral Vitoria at the Nokia Arena on Thursday night.
Maccabi is in first position in the BSL after winning all seven of its games to date and has a one-game lead atop of the Euroleague's Group C with a 5-1 record.
Vitoria beat Tel Aviv 86-81 in Spain at the end of October. However, Maccabi will be entering Thursday's encounter in a confident mood, having won four consecutive continental games since its loss in Vitoria.
The Israeli side proudly owns a perfect 6-0 record at Nokia in all competitions this season.
"We won a very important game last week in Ljubljana, but if we don't win this week at home against Caja Laboral that victory will count for nothing," Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said.
"If we win this week we would have a two-game advantage over them and with three games to play in the regular season it will give us a lot of breathing room before the difficult game in Moscow."
Lior Eliyahu returns to the Nokia Arena on Thursday for the first time since leaving Maccabi for Vitoria in the summer. Eliyahu, who has missed his team's last two Euroleague games through injury, had his best European outing of the season in Caja's win over Maccabi in Spain, scoring 12 points and taking seven rebounds.
"I'm very emotional ahead of this game," Eliyahu said after landing in Israel on Wednesday. "I know it won't be easy, but I am a professional athlete and I will do my best to help my team win."
Gershon has long been known as one of European basketball's top offensive coaches, but it is Maccabi's defense which is making him look good this season.
The yellow-and-blue has allowed just 68.2 points per game in its five Euroleague victories and leads the league in steals (9.5 spg), blocked shots (4.7 bpg) and defensive rebounding (27.2 drpg).
However, Tel Aviv conceded 86 points in Vitoria, with the Spaniards scoring 25 of 46 shots from two-point range and committing just eight turnovers.
"This game is very important in the race for the first place of the group," said Vitoria coach Dusko Ivanovic, who will have to manage without the injured Brad Oleson, Walter Herrmann, Vladimir Micov and Marcelinho Huertas.
"If they beat us, it will be almost a definitive step, as we would have a two-game margin between us and them. Maccabi counts on a lot of players that can decide a game individually, but at the same time they play great team basketball.
"We shouldn't pay attention to what happened in the first game in Vitoria.
"If we want to be able to grab the win we must allow fewer points. We can't expect a win if we play the same defense as we did in Vitoria. Maccabi is for sure a Final Four candidate."
One of the keys for Tel Aviv will be to slow down Vitoria's star Tiago Splitter. The Brazilian forward was named Week 2 MVP after he scored a career-high 26 points on 10for-14 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in the home win over Maccabi.
Tel Aviv center Yaniv Green, who despite averaging less than six minutes on court has played the second most among the side's Israeliborn players, hopes to help in the team effort to limit Vitoria's forwards, should Gershon give him a chance to play.
"It's always strange to see an Israeli player play against Maccabi, like when Yotam Halperin played against us, and now it's Lior Eliyahu," he said.
"We're all good friends and share a lot of memories, but it's professional basketball, and we have to approach it this way.
"Once the ball is in the air, nobody cares about passports. Everybody just wants to win. The only team we lost to so far was Caja Laboral, so now it's our time to show we can beat them."
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