Maccabi with its season on the line

Yellow-and-blue must defeat Real Madrid at Nokia on Tuesday to avoid Euroleague elimination.

Caner Medley Maccabi370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Caner Medley Maccabi370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv recorded its first victory in two-and-a-half weeks on Sunday afternoon, gathering some much-needed confidence ahead of Tuesday’s must win encounter against Real Madrid in Game 3 of the Euroleague quarterfinals.
After being outplayed in the first two games of the best-of-five quarterfinal series in Madrid last week, Maccabi vented its frustrations with a 91-73 win over Bnei Herzliya in BSL action on Sunday.
The yellow-and-blue has gotten accustomed to playing with its back against the wall in recent months after beginning the Euroleague Top 16 with five defeats from its first seven games, only to secure its progress to the last eight with six consecutive victories.
Combined with the defeat to Barcelona in its final Top 16 encounter, Maccabi has lost three straight Euroleague contests.
Prior to Sunday, it hadn’t won a game in any competition since crushing Besiktas JK on March 28, with the yellow-and-blue not playing in the BSL for almost a month due to the Israeli players’ strike.
After a tight first period in Herzliya, Maccabi pulled ahead in the second quarter and cruised after the break to improve to 19-3 on the season.
David Logan and Lior Eliyahu led six Maccabi players in double-figures with 16 points each, while Derrick Caracter scored 19 points for Herzliya, which dropped to 8-14.
Despite already having an unassailable lead at the top of the BSL standings, Maccabi coach David Blatt insisted that Sunday’s win was significant.
”I think this win was important for two reasons,” explained Blatt. “Winning is a habit and unfortunately losing is also a habit. After losing two consecutive games to Real and another to Barcelona beforehand I felt that it was very important that we return to winning ways. The second reason this victory was important was the fact that Real Madrid lost today 64-61 to Xacobeo Blusens in the Spanish league. I know they rested their starters, but so did we. The win against Herzliya doesn’t guarantee us anything, but we can at least smile for a few hours after winning and scoring 91 points, which is something we haven’t done in a while.”
Madrid fell to just its fourth defeat of the Spanish league season on Sunday, but continues to comfortably lead its local standings and will be looking to avoid a Game 4 in Tel Aviv on Thursday by completing a sweep of the series on Tuesday night.
“We still have a long way to go, although we only have one more game left to win to get to the Final Four,” said Real coach Pablo Laso. “Maccabi played different options in defense and offense in Game 2, but we led throughout.”
Despite never leading in Game 2 in Madrid, Blatt found reasons for optimism in his team’s performance.
“I was very angry with the players because I thought it was a winnable game,” Blatt claimed. “It may not have seemed that way to most people, but I felt that we could have won it. However, with 15 turnovers, including 6-7 unnecessary ones, and with Real taking 15 offensive rebounds, we couldn’t win. If you want to beat a better team you have got to play with focus, intensity and determination.” Since suffering a knee injury in early February, Eliyahu hasn’t been the same player for Maccabi, scoring six points in total over six Euroleague games after being sidelined for two encounters.
With Maccabi struggling on the offensive end so far in the series, the yellow-and-blue will be desperately hoping Eliyahu’s productive performance on Sunday will prove to be a sign of things to come on Tuesday.
“We really needed this win,” said Eliyahu. “We wanted to get the week off to a good start after a couple of unpleasant losses. We entered the game without preparation and after a sleepless night, but I’m happy we put all the distractions aside and played well. We return to Nokia on Tuesday and it will be a completely different story from the first two games.”