Maccabi tops Zalgiris in Tel Aviv 0

Maccabi Electra bounced back from its initial Turkish Airlines Euroleague loss in Group A by downing Zalgiris 86-70 at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, Israel. Both teams join a four-way tie for second place in Group A right behind Caja Laboral, still undefeated at 2-0. Sofoklis Schortsianitis paced the winners with 24 points on 9-of-13 two-pointers in less than 22 minutes. Richard Hendrix added 14 points while Lior Eliyahu had 12 for Maccabi. Paulius Jankunas led Zalgiris with 17 points but nobody else scored in double digits for the guests. David Blu struck twice from downtown in a 10-0 run that gave Maccabi a 25-11 after 10 minutes. Schortsianitis was simply unstoppable in the paint ad got some hel from Hendrix and Chuck Eidson to boost the hosts’ lead to 47-27 at halftime. Jankunas and Dainius Salenga fueled Zalgiris’ comeback after the break, as a 0-10 run brought the guests within 52-46.

Travis Watson got Zalgiris going with a put-back layup that Schorsianitis bettered with a three-point play for a 3-2 Maccabi lead. Eliyahu sank his trademark jump hook in transition and Schortsianitis scored down low, as Zalgiris did not find answers against him. Maccabi used twin point guards – Jeremy Pargo and Doron Perkins – to play up-tempo and another layup by Schortsianitis gave the hosts a 9-2 lead. Guy Pnini capped a 11-0 run with a running jumper, as Watson stepped up with a layup for an 11-4 score. Eliyahu hit a baseline jumper, making Zalgiris call timeout at 13-4. Schorsianitis beat Mirza Begic in the low post but DeJuan Collins scored in transition and fed Tadas Klimavicius for an easy layup that got Zalgiris within 15-8. Mantas Kalnietis took over with an acrobatic basket but a layup by Hendrix and a mid-range jumper by Blu kept Maccabi out of trouble, 19-10. Blu sent the crowd to their feet with back-to-back triples to cap a 10-0 run that allowed Maccabi to get a 25-11 margin after 10 minutes.

A reverse layup by Hendrix made it a 16-point game, 27-11, early in the second quarter. Marty Pocius found his first points on a driving layup and Aleksandar Capin added free throws to give Zalgiris some hope at 27-15. Tomas Delininkaitis silenced the crowd with a three-pointer, as Maccabi struggled to get Eidson involved. Pargo and Pocius traded mid-range jumper and a fallaway shot by Jankunas made the hosts call timeout at 30-22. Schortsianitis singlehandedly rescued Maccabi with a three-point play, free throws and a wild two-handed dunk, good for a 37-22 lead. Eidson capped a 10-0 run with a fast break dunk that broke the game open, 40-22. Dainius Salenga tried to change things for Zalgiris but Eidson and Hendrix soon gave Maccabi a 44-24 margin. Klimavicius shined with a put-back basket and Kalnietis split foul shots but Hendrix and Pnini restored a 47-27 Maccabi lead at halftime.

Maccabi changed its game plan after the break used long possessions to slow down the game tempo but the hosts stopped finding easy baskets in transition. Pocius tried to ignite the guests’ comeback with a layup and Jankunas scored inside but Eliyahu beat the shot clock with a big basket for a 49-31 score. Watson scored in the paint and Jankunas struck from downtown to bring Zalgiris within 49-36. Perkins and Arturas Milaknis joined the three-point shootout but free throws by Begic and Jankunas got the guests within single digits, 52-43. Maccabi struggled to score without Schortsianitis on the floor and a layup-plus-foul by Salenga brought Zalgiris back to life, 52-46, after a 0-10 run. Perkins provided a highlight with a reverse layup and soon scored off a midcourt steal to give the hosts some fresh air at 56-46. Collins sank a triple but Tal Burstein answered with a layup in transition. Jankunas and Eidson traded free throws but a tip-in by Hendrix and a buzzer-beating triple by Pnini gave Maccabi a 65-51 margin after 30 minutes.

Pocius had a huge block on Elishay Kadir’s dunk attempt but Zalgiris needed answers in the other end, too. Hendrix sank a close jumper and even when Kalnietis dunked it, Burstein kept Maccabi out of trouble, 69-53, with 7 minutes left. Kalnietis kept pacing Zalgiris with a driving layup but the guests only managed to trade baskets now. Hendrix scored off a wild spin move in the paint, as Maccabi brought Schortsianitis back on the floor. Jankunas scored in penetration but Eliyahu matched that with an alleyoop layup. Delininkaitis struck from downtown and Pocius fed Kalnietis for an easy layup but Eidson and back-to-back dunks by Schortsianitis sealed the outcome, 79-64, with 2 minutes. Everything was said and done, as Maccabi had pleased its fans with a big home win. Menanwhile, Zalgiris must bounce back right away against Asseco Prokom next week.

Maccabi Electra head coach David Blatt:

“I want to smile but I’m still not happy with our game. We’re a young team and we still need to glue. We worked very hard this week for this game. The third quarter setback is something that shouldn’t happen. We have a lot of good possessions and there was a lot of passion in our game and that’s very good for our fans, because that’s what they want to see. Zalgiris is a good team but we made them look not as good as they are. We recovered from the bad minutes and that’s a positive thing. Perkins made some big things today. He helped us a lot and we’re also happy of course with the performance of Hendrix and Sofo.”

Maccabi Electra guard Doron Perkins:

“It was a pleasure to be back in Nokia Arena. We missed the atmosphere and these amazing fans. I think we made a big jump from the past week and played much better. We did the things we need to execute much better. I feel that also individually I improved my game. We worked hard all week for this game and it paid off. We still have a long season, and it’s a good thing we started our home games with a win. There’s still a long way and a lot of things to work on and we’ll have to keep on doing that if we want to win more games.”

Zalgiris head coach Aco Petrovic:

“Maccabi deserves the win. We had time to prepare but we lost the game already in the first quarter and in such gym against such team as Maccabi it’s very difficult to come back. We turned the ball over too many times, and it helped Maccabi create the difference. Our defense on Schortsanitis wasn’t good enough in the first half, and it allowed Maccabi a lot of points. We played much better in the third quarter, but then made more mistakes which held us from winning the game.”

Zalgiris center Travis Watson:

“It’s Tel Aviv and that’s one of the toughest places to play. They have a good team and it’s not easy to beat them here. Maccabi had a very good start and we had to chase them from that point on, and that made everything tougher for us. We came back but couldn’t hang on to that, so we’ll have to fix that in the game in Kaunas.”