Mac TA can focus on Holon after inking Blatt

Tel Aviv’s coach signs 2-year deal ahead of Final Four game; Rishon faces Ashdod in 1st semi.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Devin Smith 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Devin Smith 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will enter Tuesday’s BSL Final Four semifinal against Hapoel Holon without any unneeded distractions after coach David Blatt ended the swirling rumors regarding his future by signing a two-year contract extension on Monday.
Maccabi initially announced in February that it had agreed to extend the 53-year-old’s stay, but the two parties only finally put pen to paper on Monday following some tense weeks.
Last month, Blatt came under unexpected fire from part-owner David Federman for his handling of guard Theo Papaloukas and there was speculation that the coach was unhappy and might be headed to Euroleague finalist CSKA Moscow, which had reportedly offered almost 2 million euro a year.
However, Blatt put an end to the rumors on Monday, and not a moment too soon, with Maccabi looking to advance to Thursday’s BSL title game with a win over Holon at Nokia Arena on Tuesday.
“No one is happier than me to continue this collaboration with Maccabi,” said Blatt, who has also got an option for the 2014/15 season.
“This is where I wanted and dreamed to be. I feel twice as good as I did when I first signed for Maccabi.
“I returned to Maccabi two years ago a better coach and a better person, ready for the massive challenges Maccabi presents.
“The last two years have been wonderful and now there is continuity, which is one of the most important parameters for success.”
Blatt led Maccabi to the Euroleague final last season, also guiding it to the BSL championship and State Cup with just a single loss all year to an Israeli opponent.
Only a heartbreaking Game 5 defeat to Panathinaikos denied Tel Aviv a place in the Euroleague Final Four this season, but the team has claimed the State Cup and Adriatic League title and enters the BSL Final Four a huge favorite to defend its Israeli championship.
Maccabi, which swept BC Habika’a in the quarterfinals, beat Holon in all three of their regular season meetings this season, although never by more than 10 points.
However, Tel Aviv dominated Holon, which overcame Hapoel Jerusalem 3-1 in the quarters, in their most recent showdown, leading 63-38 after three periods last month before taking its foot off the gas.
Nevertheless, forward Guy Pnini is adamant that Maccabi will not be taking anything for granted on Tuesday.
“We are not focusing on the past but on the future,” Pnini said. “This is a one game winner- takes-all scenario and we saw in the Champions League final that sometimes the best team doesn’t win.”
In the first semi on Tuesday, Maccabi Rishon Lezion faces surprise package Maccabi Ashdod.
Rishon became the first Israeli team to comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs when it defeated Ironi Ashkelon in Game 5 last week, but will only be a slight favorite against Ashdod at Nokia.
Ashdod impressed in a 3-1 win over No. 2 seed Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the quarters and beat Rishon when the teams last met in March.
“We achieved something great simply by reaching the Final Four,” said Ashdod guard Dror Hagag.
“We are going to face a team very similar to ourselves and I’m expecting a great game.”