Hard-fought win puts Mac TA in 2nd place

Yellow-and-blue turn up intensity in the second half to top Cantu 75-60 at Nokia.

Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Bennet Cantu 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Bennet Cantu 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Tel Aviv took a massive step towards the Euroleague quarterfinals on Thursday night, beating Bennet Cantu 75-60 at Nokia Arena to move into second place in Group H and keep its fate in its own hands.
Last week’s 82-74 loss to Cantu in Italy left Maccabi with plenty of work to do on Thursday night and the yellow-andblue’s task looked to be even more difficult after the visitors took a 41-39 lead into the break.
However, Tel Aviv seized control of the encounter by outscoring Cantu 23-5 in the third quarter and held off the feisty Italians in the final 10 minutes to claim a crucial win.
David Blu broke out of his scoring slump, netting 14 points, with Keith Langford and Lior Eliyahu adding 12 points each for Maccabi, which shot 21 of 33 from two-point range (63 percent).
Gianluca Basile had 20 points for Cantu, with Giorgi Shermadini contributing 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Italians, who played their hearts out but ultimately came up just short.
Maccabi can clinch its place in the quarterfinal playoffs in two weeks time with a home win over Zalgiris Kaunas combined with a Cantu loss to Barcelona.
A Cantu victory over Barca or a Maccabi defeat to Kaunas will mean second position will only be decided in the teams’ final Top 16 games.
After starting with Sofoklis Schortsanltis in 12 of the previous 13 Euroleague games, Maccabi coach David Blatt chose to begin Thursday’s encounter with Richard Hendrix in his place and it initially seemed to pay off.
Hendrix followed up a defensive stop with a three-point play to start the game and his basket from an offensive rebound gave Tel Aviv an early six-point lead (11-5).
However, any hope that Cantu would fold without a fight would quickly be dispelled, with Nicolas Mazzarino’s three-pointer capping a 7-0 run which gave the visitors their first lead (12-11) of the night.
A Demond Mallet triple to end the first quarter ensured Maccabi would nevertheless take a lead into the second period and David Blu’s basket a minute into the frame gave the fans renewed hope of a yellowand- blue breakaway.
But not for the first time, the Italians showed real steel, with seven straight points by veteran sharp-shooter Gianluca Basile putting Cantu back in front (33-31).
After going scoreless in the first period, Basile capped a marvelous 13-point second frame with his third three and Maccabi had plenty to ponder at halftime after Maarten Leunen’s basket from beyond the arc to end the first half gave Cantu a 41-39 advantage at the break.
Maccabi looked to be in real trouble, but the yellow-and-blue found another gear in the third quarter, increasing its defensive intensity and finally scoring some easy points on the fast break.
After playing just five minutes in the first half, Devin Smith provided significant contributions on both ends of the floor, with his five points opening a 51-43 gap midway through the quarter, equaling Cantu’s margin of victory in Italy.
Maccabi’s lead only continued to mushroom in the remainder of the frame, with Smith’s triple to end the quarter extending Tel Aviv’s cushion to 16 points (62-46).
The gap reached 17 points at the start of the fourth frame, but Cantu once more showed true resilience in the face of adversity, closing back to within eight points (63-55) thanks to six straight Basile points.
However, Maccabi would not be denied on Thursday night, with Keith Langford scoring six straight for the yellow-and-blue to take the gap back to 14 points (71-57) before Blu clinched the significant win with a dunk in the final minute.