Game Notes: Maccabi TA at Clippers
Maccabi hoopers return to their roots.
by Sean Ceglinsky
Welcome home boys. Welcome home indeed.
Israel’s most famous professional basketball team, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, made an appearance at Staples Center on Tuesday night and the Euro squad ventured across the sea, to the States, with a roster full of American born and bred ballers, each happy to be back on American soil.
Ultimately, Maccabi came up short against the Los Angeles Clippers, losing the exhibition game, 108-96. Final score aside, there were plenty of winners when all was said and done in this one.
The 13,753 fans in the stands were treated to some entertaining play, free of any outbursts from outspoken Maccabi coach Pini Gershon. More importantly, the transplanted players from the United States got a chance to set foot on a familiar continent and reconnect with family and friends.
Now, SLAMonline fully understands that everyone is interested in hearing about how Blake Griffin got busy in a Clippers uniform. And he did, rest assured. But before we get to an update on the top pick from the 2009 NBA Draft, let’s talk about David Bluthenthal’s long-awaited homecoming.
He makes a living with Maccabi in Israel, but Southern California holds a special place in his heart.
Bluthenthal owns a home locally, in Playa Vista. Before that, he was a big-time contributor at USC, seeing major minutes for the Trojans in each of the four years he played there (1998-2002). Let it be known, way back in the day, he attended high school at nearby Westchester.
For what it’s worth, Bluthenthal looked comfortable against the Clippers. The small forward scored 12 points, with 3 three-pointers, and added 5 steals in limited action, 24 minutes, to be exact.
“Tel Aviv is nice, but it feels great to be home,’’ Bluthenthal said. “I get to sleep in my own bed, see my wife and daughter and play in front of my sister and cousins. You can’t ask for much more.’’
Doron Perkins was another Maccabi player happy to be back on this side of world.
He attended college in Northern California for two years (2003-2005), at Santa Clara, the same school that produced Steve Nash. Having played in the West Coast Conference with the Broncos, Perkins knows plenty about life out in this neck of the woods, the Los Angeles area, that is.
The Clippers guards, Baron Davis, Eric Gordon and Sebastian Telfair included, had no answer for him. Perkins logged 33-plus minutes and finished with a triple-double: 16 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, the last of which came on Bluthenthal’s three-pointer just before the final buzzer sounded. Oh yeah, can’t forget to mention Perkins’ 5 steals.
“I was going hard, I felt good out there,’’ Perkins said. “It feels good to be back, period. It’s lovely. Seeing the palm trees and everything, I don’t know, I wish I could stay here longer.’’
As my esteemed colleague Adam Fleischer alluded to a couple days ago when Maccabi took on the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the Israeli team suits up several other American citizens, among them Chuck Eidson, D’or Fisher, Alan Anderson and Andrew Wisniewski.
But enough is enough. It’s time to give the Clippers their due, Griffin in particular. Honestly, he was seemingly unstoppable in limited action Tuesday, getting up and down the court without much resistance, often times playing above the rim while others watched in awe.
“I liked Blake in college. He’s going to be legit,’’ said former NBA veteran Norm Nixon, who sat courtside. “He’s my pick for Rookie of the Year. I’m here to take a good long look at him.’’
Nixon got his money’s worth midway through the 1st quarter as Griffin, somehow, grabbed what initially appeared to be an errant Telfair pass and turned the would-be turnover into an assist on an electrifying two-handed dunk, bringing the crowd to its feet. Everybody was up.
He was at it again in the second half, finishing on a pair of eye-opening alley-oop passes from Ricky Davis. All told, Griffin ended the night with a double-double, scoring 13 points on 6-7 shooting from the field to go along with 10 rebounds. He added 4 assists for good measure.
“I try not to worry about the hype,’’ Griffin said. “If I let the game come to me, things will be fine. I’m figuring that out. I started to get it going tonight. I’m starting to get my legs underneath me.’’
With Marcus Camby, Al Thornton and Brian Skinner watching from the sidelines, no injury news to report there, Chris Kaman provided the Clippers with a much-needed presence down low, underneath the basket. He scored a team-high 18 points.
Rasual Butler added 12 points, all in the 2nd quarter.
Telfair split time at the point, and showed some flashes of what once made him such a promising prospect, finishing with 15 points, 7 assists and a pair of steals.
As for Davis, he was expected to do much. Once the season rolls around, in a week, things figure to be different. That, however, didn’t prevent him from totaling 10 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds in less than 20 minutes.
Afterward, in the locker room, Davis was candid when talking about his long-time relationship with Bluthenthal. For the record, the two tangled on a couple of occasions while Davis was at UCLA and his counterpart was at USC.
“Yeah, I know him well,’’ Davis said. “Bluthenthal is a great kid. He’s got great ability. It was great that Maccabi was able to make it out this way. It was good to see him out on the court again. I bet he was glad to be back home.’’