Mac TA overcomes Haifa for 40th cup triumph

Yellow-and-blue pull out tight win after Haifa fought back to lead in 4th quarter.

DEVIN SMITH (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv survived a mighty scare to claim the State Cup for a fourth straight year and for the 40th time in its history on Thursday night, beating Maccabi Haifa 76-68 at Nokia Arena.
Tel Aviv was in a comfortable position at halftime, taking a double-digit gap (42-31) into the break.
However, the yellow-and-blue scored just 10 points in the third period and Haifa almost erased the deficit completely before taking a 61-57 lead with 6:40 to play in the game thanks to a 13-2 run.
However, the yellow-and-blue would have the final laugh, responding with a 14-2 surge over six minutes to open an unassailable eight-point cushion (71-63) with 47 seconds remaining.
Ricky Hickman led Tel Aviv with 15 points, with Devin Smith adding 13 points and Yogev Ohayon scoring 12.
Gel Mekel was outstanding for Haifa, ending the night with 28 points, while Donta Smith had 15 points and Pat Calathes contributed 14 points for the Greens, which shot just 36.9 percent from two-point range (17-of-46) after hitting an amazing 84 percent of their two-point shots (26-of-31) in the semifinal win over Hapoel Jerusalem.
Just like in Tuesday’s semifinal win over Maccabi Ashdod, Tel Aviv began the night with a hot hand from beyond the arc, with Hickman’s three-pointer, the yellow-and-blue’s third straight, opening an early seven-point lead (11-4).
Haifa’s defense had no answer for Tel Aviv in the first quarter, but Mekel single-handedly kept his team in the game, scoring 14 of his team’s 18 points to keep the Greens at arm’s length (25-18) after 10 minutes.
Nevertheless, a Moran Rot jumper took Tel Aviv’s margin to double digits (29-18) at the start of the second period and a Guy Pnini three extended the gap to a record 14 points (42-28).
David Blatt’s men still held a comfortable double-figure cushion at the break (42-31), but Haifa finally showed up on the defensive end in the third frame and was right back in the game after holding Tel Aviv to just 10 points in 10 minutes.
A Cory Carr basket cut the deficit to three points (46-43), only for a David Logan triple, Tel Aviv’s first points in five minutes, to take the lead back to six points.
Another Logan three gave Tel Aviv a 52-48 advantage at the end of the quarter and another triple by the American guard to start the final frame increased the margin to seven points (55-48).
However, Haifa would reply with a 13-2 run to take its first lead since scoring the first two points of the night.
Mekel was unsurprisingly at the center of the surge, with his free-throws giving Haifa a 61-57 edge with 6:40 to play.
But Tel Aviv would fight back immediately, going on a 9-0 run, with Smith’s three opening a 66-61 margin.
Haifa ultimately lost any hope of winning after managing to add just two points to its tally in over six minutes, with Pnini’s free throws capping a 14-2 run to give Tel Aviv an eight-point lead (71-63) from which there would be no return for the Greens.