It was an unpredictable situation for one of the dominant teams in Euroleague history. Five years had passed since the last time Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv faced a losing record halfway through a Euroleague regular season. Entering this month, however, the team sat next-to-last in Group A with a 2-3 record and only five more regular season games left. Three weeks later, to the delight of Maccabi’s fans, predictability has returned. Maccabi not only is qualified early for the Top 16, but also ready to challenge for first place. Plenty thanks for that turnaround go to forward Lior Eliyahu, Euroleague Basketball's choice as December MVP. Just when Maccabi needed a go-to guy, Eliyahu became just that, posting three consecutive double-doubles to lead Maccabi to a trio of huge wins. Eliyahu started the month by pulling off the highest performance index rating all season in a victory over then co-leader Cibona. He followed that with almost identical double-doubles in points and rebounds to spark Maccabi's first road wins of the season, at Air Avellino and Le Mans. In the process, Eliyahu vaulted to top-ten status among all Euroleague players in index rating, scoring and rebounding. Most importantly, however, Eliyahu helped put Maccabi back in its accustomed place as a Euroleague contender, and in so doing made himself a more-than-deserving choice as MVP of December.
Euroleague Basketball's MVP of the Month honor is in its fifth season. Although statistics and performance ratings are taken into consideration for the award, they alone do not determine who is honored. The winner is named by Euroleague Basketball based on his and his team's performance. The award for December was decided considering the three regular season games played by all teams during that month.
At home in Tel Aviv back on December 4, Eliyahu entered early in the first quarter against Cibona and proceeded to post one of the best off-the-bench performances all decade in the Euroleague. Doing all his damage in and around the paint, Eliyahu piled up points and rebounds in non-stop fashion, all needed by his team a game that stayed tight throughout.
Finally, Eliyahu's consecutive baskets with under 4 minutes left put Maccabi in front for good. Eliyahu finished with his Euroleague career highs in index rating (42), points (24), rebounds (17) and assists (6), including some spectacular passes, dunks and touch shots inside, as Maccabi hung on for a crucial 88-83 victory. Next, still needing its first road win of the regular season, Maccabi visited its most direct rival for survival, Avellino. Again, Eliyahu came off the bench with immediate impact, scoring on his first four possessions on the floor as Maccabi methodically pulled away for a 72-86 victory. Eliyahu had 18 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 7 for 10 in the win. Next stop was Le Mans, where Eliyahu returned to the starting lineup and helped fuel big first-half leads that Maccabi nursed all the way to a 73-87 win. Combined with other results, the victory gave Maccabi a ticket to the Top 16 that might have been considered unlikely when December started. Eliyahu, meanwhile, had posted one-month averages of 20.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists while making 26 of 39 two-point shots, or 66.6%. His three double-doubles in a row were rare, indeed, considering that only one other player in the league had three total during the first eight games.
Maccabi has been a semifinalist or better in eight out of last 10 Euroleague seasons. With his team's lofty standing in danger midway through this newly short regular season, Eliyahu emerged as another in a long line of heroes in yellow. His performance as December MVP also put the spark back into the devoted Maccabi fans, who can celebrate his end-of-2008 achievement when Eliyahu receives the award at an upcoming home game.