LeBron returns, Blatt bests former team as Cavs cruise past Maccabi Tel Aviv

The Cleveland Cavaliers in LeBron James’ return to his hometown NBA team routed Maccabi Tel Aviv in a game that pitted the Cavs’ new coach, David Blatt, against his former squad.

On Sunday, James scored 12 points in playing only the first half of the 107-80 victory over the 2014 Euroleague and Israel Super Basketball League champions.

The exhibition game had been scheduled long before Blatt signed on as Cavs’ coach in June. For Blatt, it was his NBA coaching debut.

‘I was nervous before the game, but not because it was the first time I coached in the NBA,” Blatt told reporters after the game. “I was playing against my friends.”

James, who returned to Cleveland as a free agent after spending four seasons with the Miami Heat, has been bothered by back problems.

More than a dozen of the credentialed reporters were from Israel, including the major newspapers and television stations, according to the Cleveland Jewish News. Blatt conducted a second news conference in Hebrew for the Israeli media following the game.

The game was also billed as Jewish Community Night.

About 50 pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated outside Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena before the game over comments Blatt made to an Israeli newspaper in the summer in support of Israel’s military operation in Gaza.


Maccabi Tev Aviv upsets its way to Euroleague basketball crown

Maccabi Tel Aviv upset favored Real Madrid to win the Euroleague basketball championship.

Maccabi defeated the Spanish squad, 98-86, in overtime on Sunday night in Milan in the title game. Tyrese Rice led the Israeli club with 26 points, including 14 in overtime. The game was tied at 73 following regulation.

A huge contingent of Israelis traveled to Italy for the game — some estimates said at least 10,000. Many of the Maccabi fans dressed in the team’s yellow and waved yellow-and-blue banners and the team’s flag, a yellow-and-blue version of the Israeli flag, with the star of David in the center.

Manuel Berti on the Italian Basketinside blog called the victory a “masterpiece” that was “incredible, crazy, surreal.” He added, “It is the triumph of an entire people, who arrived en masse to fill and color the streets of Milan.”

Maccabi had reached the finals with another upset victory, over CSKA Moscow, in the semifinals on Friday. The Israeli club rallied from a 15-point deficit to win.

President Shimon Peres phoned Coach David Blatt after the finals victory to congratulate him — and said the dramatic game had almost given him a heart attack, The Jerusalem Post reported.

It was the sixth Euroleague title for Maccabi Tel Aviv and its first since 2005.

Euroleague basketball finals changed to accommodate Israeli team

The start time of the Euroleague championship basketball game has been moved up by several hours to accommodate an Israeli team that does not want to play on its Memorial Day.

On Wednesday, the Euroleague said the May 8 final of its Final Four tournament in Barcelona, Spain, would be played at 5:30 p.m. Israel time, so as not to interfere with Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror.

Maccabi Tel Aviv, the most awarded sports team in Israeli history, qualified for the Final Four after beating the Spanish team Caja Laboral Vitoria in four games last week to capture their best-of-5-series.

Maccabi’s general manager, Shimon Mizrachi, the winner of this year’s prestigious Israel Prize, negotiated with the CEO of the Euroleague about changing the tipoff to an earlier hour.

Maccabi, which has won the Euroleague title four times since 1977, must win its semifinal game on May 6 to qualify for the finals.

The idea of an Israeli team playing on one of the most somber days on the Israeli calendar sparked controversy on the Israeli street.

In Maccabi’s case, it wasn’t the first time. Twenty years ago, the club was heavily criticized for playing in the semifinals of the European Final Four in a game that ended after the start of Memorial Day in Israel.