Yellow-and-blue wallops Gilboa to take title; Hap J’lem 3rd

Macccabi Tel Aviv adds a 49th national title to its name with 91-64 win at Nokia.

Pnini 311 (photo credit: BSL)
Pnini 311
(photo credit: BSL)
A season that opened with tempered expectations and a hint of uncertainty for Maccabi Tel Aviv ended with a return to historical normalcy on Thursday night, as the yellow- and-blue added a 49th national title to its name, defeating Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 91-64 in the Final Four championship game at Nokia Arena.
The evening could not have unfolded any differently compared to a year ago, when Gilboa shocked Maccabi 90-77 on the same floor to win its second championship.
That loss precipitated a fundamental shakeup beneath Maccabi chairman Shimon Mizrahi. David Blatt replaced Pini Gershon at the helm, and a new lineup, based around big man Sofoklis Schortsanitis and ex-Gilboa point guard Jeremy Pargo, signaled a shift in philosophy towards team defense and driving and dishing.
It worked.
Blatt navigated around the loss of renaissance man Doron Perkins in March and, combined with its State Cup victory over Barak Netanya, gave Tel Aviv its first double since 2005/06 and 24th overall.
Thursday night didn’t go as smoothly for the top seed as its 100- 77 semifinal win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Tuesday, as it only pulled away for good late in the third. But one couldn’t find yellow-clad fans complaining when the final buzzer sounded on the 2010/11 season.
Maccabi shot 58 percent while limiting its counterpart to 39 percent.
David Blu was named Final Four MVP and hit five of Maccabi’s 13 threes on Thursday, finishing with a team-high 19 points. Pargo contributed nine points and 10 assists, while Sofo was limited to nine points in 10 foul-plagued minutes.
Courtney Fells was single-handedly responsible for keeping Gilboa within striking distance until midway through the third quarter. The swingman hit all five of his first-half threes and finished with 25 points in a performance that had Maccabi supporters dreaming of seeing him in yellow and blue next season.
Earlier Thursday, Hapoel Jerusalem booked itself a Eurocup berth for the second straight year by downing Maccabi Rishon Lezion 94-74 in the third-place game.
Jerusalem’s backcourt duo of Yuval Naimi and Jason Rich combined for 45 points, while Aaron McGhee had 21 points and 11 boards in a losing cause.
Rishon led most of the first half, but a late Jerusalem run at the end of the second quarter gave the Reds a 45-37 lead at the break.
Rishon was still in striking distance at 73-65 with a little over five minutes remaining, but back-to-back turnovers led to six quick Jerusalem points, and the Reds maintained a double-digit advantage until the end, ensuring Oded Katash’s turbulent first year at the capital ended with something to smile about.
Nevertheless, rumors swirled Thursday that Katash, who guided Gilboa to last year’s championship, may soon be on his way out of Jerusalem, despite being only one year into a three-year contract.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 91, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 64 Blatt’s gameplan was clear from the start – feed Sofo the ball.
The big Greek scored on Tel Aviv’s first two possessions, and then drew two double-teams that led to two Blu three-pointers. Before Gilboa could take a breath, it was 10-0 and Nokia was rocking.
But Gilboa coach Lior Lubin took an important timeout, settled his troops, and the northerners quieted the crowd with eight of the next 11 to trail 13-8.
They couldn’t hold down the hosts for much longer, however – two more Blu threes bookended a 9-0 run, and down 24-13 after 10 minutes, Gilboa looked flustered.
Defense ruled the early part of the second stanza, but Tel Aviv’s much more so. Gilboa went over four minutes without a point while Maccabi scored eight in that span to lead 32-13.
The last of Fells’s five first-half threes got the northerners to within 10 (42- 32) with halftime a minute away.
But the hosts got the last laugh of the half when Milan Macvan hit Guy Pnini (11 points) with an outlet pass, and the Maccabi veteran’s buzzer-beating three gave it a boost heading into the locker room, up 47-35.
Tel Aviv was sloppy to begin the third, as possessions were ending more often with turnovers as opposed to shots, and a Marco Killingsworth layup had Gilboa within eight (47-39).
But every time the visitors seemed to get their bearings straight, it was only a matter of seconds until a Maccabi three swished through the hoop.
Threes from Pnini, Blu, and Tal Burstein, as well as some nifty maneuvering in the paint from Chuck Eidson, fueled a 16-5 run, and Maccabi led 63-44 with 13 minutes to play.
Lubin managed to keep the lead from growing, but down 65-47 entering the final frame, Gilboa’s hopes looked dim.
Fells stayed red hot as the minutes ticked away, but his teammates simply didn’t display the sense of urgency necessary to stage a comeback in a raucous stadium.
The dagger came with five minutes to go, when Eidson stroked a transition three to give Tel Aviv an 81-58 lead.
One minute later, Eidson was on the bench and Derrick Sharp, in his 16th season at Maccabi, entered the game to celebrate his 13th championship.
It’s unclear whether Sharp, who finished with two points at the line, will return, after his one-year contract expired following the final whistle.
But Maccabi’s win restored a modicum of order to the Israeli basketball world, and one gets the sense that something special is blossoming in Tel Aviv.