Mac TA sets sights on 9th straight State Cup

As first lo­cal team to beat yel­low-and-blue this sea­son, Hapoel Holon a wor­thy foe for fi­nal

Jerusalem Post - - SPORTS - R #Z "--0/ 4*/"* (Adi Avishai) On TV:

Even while ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its worst run in club his­tory, Mac­cabi Tel Aviv con­tin­ued to main­tain its stran­gle­hold on the State Cup.

Mac­cabi has not only gone three years with­out win­ning the Is­raeli cham­pi­onship, but it hasn’t even reached the BSL fi­nal since 2013/2014. Six head coaches, not in­clud­ing in­terim re­place­ments, came and went over the past three sea­sons, as Mac­cabi went from be­ing the peren­nial cham­pion to a chronic un­der­achiever.

The yel­low-and-blue looked to change that ahead of this sea­son with a com­plete over­haul that saw only one player re­turn, as well as the sign­ing of a new coach­ing staff.

The re­sults so far have been en­cour­ag­ing, but be­fore it tries to re­gain the league ti­tle and chal­lenge for a place in the Euroleague Fi­nal Four in the con­ti­nen­tal play­offs, Tel Aviv wants to first en­sure it re­tains the State Cup for an­other year. MAC­CABI TEL AVIV head coach Neven Spahija (left pic­ture) is tar­get­ing his first State Cup tri­umph in tonight’s fi­nal at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv against Hapoel Holon and its coach Dan Shamir (right pic­ture), who will be tak­ing part in his first fi­nal since lift­ing the tro­phy back-to-back in 2007 and 2008 while at Hapoel Jerusalem.

De­spite win­ning the last eight edi­tions of the com­pe­ti­tion and not los­ing in the cup since De­cem­ber 2008 when it was de­feated by Ironi Nahariya in the last-16, Mac­cabi en­ters Thurs­day’s fi­nal at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv as a very slight fa­vorite, with its op­po­nent Hapoel Holon play­ing ar­guably the most im­pres­sive bas­ket­ball of any team in Is­rael so far this sea­son.

Holon is in se­cond place in the BSL stand­ings, one game back of the yel­low-and-blue, but beat Mac­cabi in their only meet­ing of the sea­son to date two months ago.

Holon handed Tel Aviv its first BSL loss of the cam­paign, win­ning 93-89 at Yad Eliyahu.

Since drop­ping its first two BSL reg­u­lar sea­son games, Holon has played 17 times in lo­cal league and cup ac­tion and has lost only twice. Its of­fen­sive play has been es­pe­cially im­pres­sive, but Dan Shamir’s team proved that it knows how to win even on a night when its shots don’t drop as usual, beat­ing Hapoel Jerusalem 76-67 in Mon­day’s semi­fi­nal de­spite go­ing 8-of29 from three-point range. A 23-2 se­cond-half run saw Holon open a 16-point gap (64-48) Jerusalem couldn’t erase.

Holon ad­vanced to its first fi­nal since 2009 when it beat Mac­cabi Haifa for its one and only cup tri­umph, in what was also the last time Mac­cabi Tel Aviv didn’t take the ti­tle.

Mac­cabi trailed for large pe­ri­ods of its semi against Mac­cabi Ash­dod, but a 12-0 fourth-quar­ter run would see it tough out a 76-73 vic­tory.

Glen Rice Jr. led Holon on Mon­day with 23 points, 10 re­bounds and six as­sists, con­tin­u­ing his sen­sa­tional play since ar­riv­ing in Is­rael in Oc­to­ber as a re­place­ment for Jabril Traw­ick.

Rice Jr., the son of three-time NBA All-Star Glen Rice Sr., scored 28 points in Holon’s BSL win over Mac­cabi and leads the league with an av­er­age of 25.6 points per game.

Stop­ping Rice will likely be one of Tel Aviv’s top pri­or­i­ties.

Rice’s ques­tion­able con­duct, the high­light of which so far this sea­son saw him kick­ing the ball deep into the stands af­ter be­ing called for trav­el­ing when he thought he was fouled in a BSL game against Bnei Her­zliya, is the only rea­son he is play­ing for Holon rather than at a big Euro­pean club or in the NBA.

“He’s a very in­ter­est­ing in­di­vid­ual,” ad­mit­ted Shamir. “He is one of the best play­ers to ever play in Is­rael and it is scarier to play against him than it is to play with him. My job isn’t rocket sci­ence.

There are cer­tain play­ers that you just have to al­low them to play their game. Ob­vi­ously he isn’t per­fect, but look what we have achieved with him.”

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