Maccabi thrashes Efes in Istanbul

Impressive defensive effort the difference as TA wins debut under Sherf.

Maccabi TA 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Maccabi TA 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
The color of their shirts may have been the same and the names of the players may not have changed, but the Maccabi Tel Aviv team which defeated Efes Pilsen 83-68 on Thursday night bore little resemblance to the side that lost three of its last four league games by an average 16 points. New coach Tzvika Sherf, who replaced Oded Katash on Tuesday, said that the key against Pilsen would be his team's defensive play. He couldn't have been more correct. After conceding 89.3 points per game in its first four road encounters, Tel Aviv limited Pilsen to just 68 points in Istanbul on its way to a third straight road victory. "The players gave their heart and soul tonight," Sherf told Channel 10 after the victory. "I'm delighted with the win because it will give us a boost and some confidence. This victory can give us a big push forward and I'm happy for the players and fans." A 15-0 five-minute run during the first and second quarters gave Maccabi a lead it wouldn't relinquish against a Pilsen team that entered the game a perfect 4-0 at home in the Euroleague. The incredible turnaround in Tel Aviv's play on Thursday was illustrated by two statistics. The urgency displayed by the team resulted in a 37-27 rebounding advantage and the side's newly found confidence was evident in its three-point shooting (11 of 23). Terence Morris led Maccabi with a monster game, scoring 16 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. Marcus Fizer also scored 16 points, most of them in the fourth period, with Will Bynum and Yotam Halperin adding 14 and 12 points, respectively. Scoonie Penn scored 30 points for David Blatt's Pilsen, with Kenny Gregory the hosts only other player to score in double-figures, adding 14 points. Vonteego Cummings scored the first points of the game, giving Maccabi what would prove to be its only lead of the first quarter. Gregory's three-pointer midway through the period opened a five point margin (14-9) for Pilsen, but a Halperin basket capped a 5-0 Tel Aviv run which tied the score. A 9-0 Pilsen run opened the hosts' first substantial lead of the night (23-14) and seemed to shock the struggling Maccabi. The visitors, however, would score the last eight points of the quarter and trailed by a single point (23-22) after Bynum beat the buzzer with an unlikely basket from mid-court. Maccabi improved its defensive play with every minute that passed and was ahead 29-23 after Esteban Batista capped a 7-0 run to start the quarter. It took Pilsen four minutes to score its first points of the second period, with Andre Hutson hitting a long jumper. Tel Aviv would, nevertheless, maintain its comfortable lead until the break and was ahead by 11 points at halftime after Halperin scored two free-throws (45-34). The visitors continued to extend their lead in the second half, with Halperin's three opening a 15-point margin (53-38). A 7-0 Efes run brought the hosts within eight points, but a stunning Morris dunk gave Maccabi a big lead once again (58-45). Tel Aviv, however, would score just four more points in the third period and Pilsen closed the gap to 62-54 ahead of the final period. Eight points would prove to be as close as Pilsen would come after Fizer's superb start to the fourth period clinched the win for Maccabi. The American forward, who struggled under Katash, scored nine points in the first four-and-a-half minutes of the quarter, giving the team an unassailable 15 point advantage.