Mac TA survives J’lem challenge to lift Cup

Hapoel controls first half, but yellow-and-blue fights back to claim pre-season tourney.

DEVIN SMITH  370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv overcame its first test of the season on Thursday night, coming back from a halftime deficit to defeat Hapoel Jerusalem 88-77 in the Winner Cup final in Rishon Lezion.
Jerusalem led throughout the first half, with Brad Greenberg’s men taking a seven-point margin (41-34) into the break.
However, Maccabi ultimately had too much fire power for Jerusalem, and dominated the second half on the way to its fourth straight triumph in the pre-season tournament.
“This win is significant as we had plenty to lose had we not triumphed,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “This wasn’t an easy tournament but I’m pleased with our performance.”
Sylven Landesberg led Maccabi with 21 points, while Devin Smith scored 19, Ricky Hickman added 15 points and Joe Ingles contributed 14 points.
Josh Duncan had 20 points and eight rebounds for Jerusalem, which despite the defeat will draw encouragement from its showing in the Winner Cup, reaching its first final in any competition since 2010 and giving Maccabi a run for its money.
“We had trouble guarding them in the second half after guarding really well in the first half,” explained Greenberg.
“I like what I’ve seen from the team so far and hopefully this means good things for us.”
After blowing out its opponents in the first period of the quarterfinals and semifinals, Maccabi faced a far sterner examination on Thursday.
A Derwin Kitchen three-point play opened an eight-point Hapoel gap (11-3), and although Tel Aviv quickly closed to within one possession, Hapoel maintained the initiative until the break.
Jerusalem, which played without key Israelis Yotam Halperin and Yaniv Green, was ahead by seven points after the first quarter (25-18), a gap it still held at halftime (41-34).
However, Jerusalem couldn’t contain Maccabi for much longer, with the yellow- and-blue outscoring Hapoel 29-17 in the third quarter to take over proceedings.
Landesberg built on his excellent display against Hapoel Eilat in the semis, scoring six quick points to complete Maccabi’s comeback (45-43) as part of a 13-0 surge which gave Tel Aviv an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.
A Yogev Ohayon turnaround jumper capped a 24-3 run (58-46), but Ronald Dupree kept Jerusalem within striking distance ahead of the final frame (63-58) after sinking his second triple of the night.
However, Landesberg maintained his perfect shooting night, improving to 7-of- 7 from the field (before missing his final two shots of the game), to take the lead back to nine points (67-58) and there was only going to be one winner after Smith’s basket from beyond the arc opened a 13- point (73-60) cushion.