Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Jerusalem 77-74 in the Israeli Classico at Yad Eliyahu thanks to a 25-10 4th quarter to take the win. The Reds controlled the game for the first 30 minutes and took a 12 point, 64-52 lead into the 4th quarter, but Norris Cole (22p) took control of the contest for the Yellow & Blue over the final frame with 11 points and helped his team to the victory. Michael Roll added 13 points and 7 assists while Alex Tyus chipped in with 12 points for Maccabi. Richard Howell dropped 15 points as Kalin Lucas and Stratos Perperologou scored 11 points a piece for Hapoel Jerusalem.
1) We’ve seen some terrific moments from Norris Cole this season both in the Euroleague and domestically, but tonight stands out as one of his best games. Number 30 showed his leadership skills by taking the bull by the horns and willing his team to victory; he was a leader in the truest sense of the word. Cole knew that he needed to step up especially when Maccabi was down by a dozen after 30 minutes and looked to take responsibility, “We need to bring it as a team and as a leader I had to do something to bring some energy. Whether it was defense, scoring or assists; I had to do something because it wasn’t working. Tonight I just got it going and offensively I got very, very aggressive. Sometimes games like that happen and as a leader you have to see what the team needs and bring it, tonight I had happened to offensively. Other nights others have it going, it might be defensively or bringing energy. We definitely had to have it tonight, I knew we had to have it tonight and I kind of put it on myself to try and go get it for us.” He certainly did put it on himself and his 11 4th quarter points said it all. If Maccabi has designs of winning the Israeli league title and making the Euroleague quarterfinals they’ll need Cole at his best, at not only both ends of the court but also in a leadership role.
2) Cole’s teammates also commented on his performance and the leadership that he showed when they needed it most, “He’s hard working, he’s determined and he’s an asset to the game. I always say it starts with your point guard. When you see your point guard giving it his all, scoring and getting the crowd hyped that makes you want to do the same. The whole team came in and got defensive stops,” commented Thomas who was the beneficiary of Cole’s fine play in the 4th quarter. Michael Roll also spoke about number 30, “He was aggressive and was making his shots. He played very well and used his speed at times when we really needed it.” I think if we would asked more players, the responses would be more of the same.
3) One of the keys for Hapoel Jerusalem over the first three quarters of the game was not turning over the ball and their second chance points. With only 5 turnovers for the Reds compared to 14 for the Yellow & Blue along with double the amount of turnover points 24-12 for Jerusalem, they thoroughly were in control or so they thought. In fact, Maccabi only led for a fraction of the game (3:18). I asked Coach Oded Katash what positives he could take away from the first 30 minutes, “The players came to play. They were more aggressive than last week, I felt the commitment and aggressiveness was there. We didn’t play against ourselves and it also depends on the other team. Maccabi didn’t play like the did against EFES and that was always in part to the good work that we did.” Katash is fortunate that time is on his side and that the semifinals and finals are played as a Final Four, is essence the Reds will have as good a chance as the next team to play for the Championship.
Jerusalem looked to be one step ahead on any loose ball and on any set piece and that’s most probably due to the fact that Maccabi has played many more games than any other team as Coach Neven Spahija indicated. Following the game he mentioned that Pierre Jackson had been sick and that his team was tired. Hence perhaps the reason why the Reds were able to keep Maccabi out of an offensive flow for the first three quarters. I asked the coach if his players were aware enough during that time on the court and he backed his guys up 110% of the way, “Definitely. They are aware a lot. Sometimes it kills me when I hear that they don’t care or don’t have enough energy. If they don’t have enough energy or they don’t approach the right way then we wouldn’t be in the position where we are right now after so many games. They are good people over there.” Spahija complimented his crew for the effort that they have put in this season and patted them on the back as they head into a critical Euroleague matchup on Thursday against Khimki. A game that they MUST have and a game that perhaps may catapult them into the 7th or should I even dare say the 6th position. Now that would be an amazing accomplishment.