Yellow-and-blue nets first Euroleague W

Strong performance at both ends of the floor fuels Maccabi’s 16-point thrashing of Kaunas.

Hendrix 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hendrix 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After a depressing week, Maccabi Tel Aviv gave its fans plenty of reasons for optimism on Thursday night.
The yellow-and-blue defeated Zalgiris Kaunas 86-70 at the Nokia Arena, its first victory of the Euroleague campaign after being outplayed at Caja Laboral Vitoria in its opener in Spain last week.
Tel Aviv looked completely hapless last week, but it showed plenty of potential on Thursday night, both defensively and offensively.
The hosts opened a 20-point margin by the break by scoring on fast breaks whenever given a chance and pushing the ball into Sofoklis Schortsanitis whenever their transition game stalled.
The Greek center scored 24 points in just 22 minutes, hitting nine of 13 shots and also grabbing five rebounds.
“It’s great to play in front of these fans and I just want to give 110 percent whenever I play,” said Sofo.
Maccabi also got a significant contribution from big-man Richard Hendrix, who scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds, with Lior Eliyahu adding 12 points.
One of the keys to Tel Aviv’s win was its 15 steals in the game, part of the 26 turnovers committed by the visitors.
Paulius Jankunas was Zalgiris’ only player to reach double-figures, scoring 17 points.
Travis Watson scored the first points of the night to put Zalgiris ahead, but that would prove to be the Lithuanians’ only lead of the game, with Maccabi getting off to a quick start and dictating an up-tempo pace of play.
The hosts displayed a much improved defensive game compared to last week and were forcing turnovers and making the most of every opportunity to score on the fast break.
Sofo in particular was causing Kaunas all kinds of problems and his seven points helped Maccabi to an 11-0 run, which was capped by Guy Pnini’s basket three-and-a-half minutes into the encounter.
Tel Aviv held Zalgiris to just four points in the first six minutes of the game and two more points by its Greek giant increased the margin to double-digits (15-4).
The visitors hurled the ball from beyond the arc time and time again, but missed all six of their attempts in the first quarter, leaving themselves vulnerable on the counter-attack.
Maccabi took its chances and two three-pointers by Blu within 30 seconds saw Maccabi’s gap mushroom, with the hosts leading 25-11 after 10 minutes.
An 11-3 run by Kaunas in the first four minutes of the second quarter brought the visitors back within striking distance (30-22), but Zalgiris would score just five more points in the remaining six minutes of the first half.
Seven straight points by Sofo started a 10-0 run, putting Maccabi in a commanding position once more (40-22).
Sofo would end the first half with 17 points and his contribution combined with that of Zalgiris’ 15 turnovers meant Maccabi led 47-27 at the break.
Tel Aviv had a much tougher time scoring at the start of the second half and saw its margin cut to 49-36 after getting just two points in the first five minutes of the quarter.
Jankunas was causing much of the damage and his free-throws brought Aco Petrovic’s team back within single digits (52-43).
A three-point play by Dainius Salenga in Kaunas’ next possession cut the deficit to a mere six points, but four consecutive Doron Perkins points settled Maccabi nerves, and Tel Aviv led 65-51 with 10 minutes to play after Pnini’s buzzer-beating three.
Good minutes by Hendrix kept Kaunas at bay at the start of the fourth period and there was only going to be one winner after Sofo’s dunk gave Tel Aviv a 15-point gap (77-62) with only three minutes to play.