Local Hoops: State Cup semis focus on coaching clashes

Shamir’s Holon faces Blatt’s Mac TA; Ashkenazi’s Habika’a takes on Effi’s Mac Rishon.

Maccabi Rishon coach Effi Birenboim 390 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Rishon coach Effi Birenboim 390
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Ever since Hapoel Holon was drawn to face Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals of the State Cup, Holon coach Dan Shamir has been endlessly showering compliments on Maccabi’s David Blatt.
It is fair to assume that Shamir has been speaking honestly of his gratitude to one of his mentors rather than using flattery tactics, but either way, the student will have a chance to best the master against all odds when they meet at Nokia Arena on Monday night.
Maccabi enters the semis as a clear favorite, especially as it had an extra day to prepare for the game following the postponement of Saturday’s Adriatic League game against Buducnost due to bad weather conditions at the Montenegrin capital Podgorica, which prevented the team from flying out to Tel Aviv.
After a rocky two weeks, Tel Aviv regained control of its Euroleague fate with an impressive 75-60 victory over Bennet Cantu on Thursday and will be entering Monday’s game brimming with confidence.
In their only meeting so far this season, Holon gave Maccabi a run for its money in the first half, trailing by just four points at the break.
Tel Aviv ended up winning 84-75 two months ago, but Holon has registered consistent improvement as the season progressed, winning six of seven BSL games following the defeat at Nokia before being edged at Ironi Ashkelon last week.
Holon, which has thrashed its three opponents on its way to the semifinals by an average 31.7 points, is second only to Maccabi in points per game (83.9) in league play.
Ron Lewis (19.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.0 apg) is the team’s leading scorer and a threat from any distance, with Bryant Dunston (15.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg) the dominant force under the baskets and Tasmin Mitchell (13.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg) picking up the slack whenever needed.
However, the undoubted conductor of Shamir’s orchestra is playmaker Moran Rot, who is posting 12.9 points and a career-high 8.3 assists so far this season.
Rot will have Maccabi’s packed back-court to deal with on Monday, with his match-up against Tel Aviv’s Yogev Ohayon, who was superb against Cantu on Thursday, expected to be one of the highlights of the game.
“This is my fourth time as coach in the cup semis, but my first time with Holon and I’m very excited,” said Shamir, who was part of Maccabi’s coaching staff with Blatt between 2003 and 2005 and also spent a year as his assistant at Dynamo Moscow in 2008/09.
“For me to play David is a private party, especially in the cup semis. I’m facing the best coach I know. We have a dream to reach the final and we will give our all to realize it. Our team has gelled and taken off since the start of the season, but that is of little relevance on Monday. If we played Maccabi 10 times they would beat us in most of them, but we can win one in 10 and I hope that will be on Monday.”
Rot has never hidden his disappointment at not being given a chance by the yellow-and-blue, and after helping Holon to the championship with a win over Maccabi four years ago, he will be looking to prove his worth once more on Monday.
“Maccabi is one of the best team’s in Europe and is clearly the favorite,” Rot said on Sunday.
“But we will display the energy we have shown all season and will have our amazing fans pushing us. “There are some similarities between this Holon team and the one from four years ago. That team was a lot more talented, but this one has a similar character and in one game anything is possible.”
In the first semi of the day, BC Habika’a plays Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
Since recording a dramatic 70-64 victory over Maccabi Ashdod in the cup quarterfinals, Habkia’a has lost three straight BSL games, while Rishon has been one of the league’s hottest teams.
Dagan Yavzuri’s desperation three-pointer saw Rishon lose 75-74 to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil last week, but Effi Birenboim’s men had won their previous four BSL encounters and have not lost a game by more than five points all season.
“Rishon has already beaten us twice this season, but on a given night anything can happen,” Habika’a coach Avi Ashkenazi said. “We haven’t been at our best recently, but that is irrelevant before a game like this. We understand that this is a chance that doesn’t arise every season and we must grasp it.”
On TV: State Cup semifinals: BC Habika’a vs Maccabi Rishon Lezion (live on Channel 1 at 6 p.m.); Ironi Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Hapoel Holon (live on Channel 1 at 9 p.m.)