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Hapoel Jerusalem & Maccabi Tel Aviv: The answer my friend is blowing in the wind

Dov Halickman Photography

I witnessed an interesting night of basketball. First was Hapoel Jerusalem at Hapoel Holon and then a night cap between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa at Yad Eliyahu. I had been debating which game I’d end up going to, but what did The Sports Rabbi do? Well, of course, you guessed it, I went for both!

On one hand you had a terrific matchup with the Jerusalem Reds visiting Dan Shamir’s Holon squad who have been not only very competitive all season, but held onto first place for the past few weeks. The late game featured a Yellow & Blue side that had lost 7 contests in a row across all competitions hosting a Green Machine who had played Maccabi very, very tight losing two games by a total of three points earlier in the season.

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What did we get? Well, we got exactly what the doctor had ordered for both games. In Holon, without Amare Stoudemire, Ike Rosefelt and a loaned out Shawn Jones, but with new recruits, Alessandro Gentile and Richard Howell, Jerusalem had a tough time with the hosts who just couldn’t be shaken. The game actually went down to the final clicks of the clock, but Curtis Jerrells repeated his heroics from the away game in Nahariya by hitting a last second shot over Jordan Taylor to give Hapoel the 73-71 win. Veins of ice from Jerrells, coolly dropping the winner shot for the second time this campaign.

About 15km away at Yad Eliyahu, Maccabi Haifa was giving Maccabi Tel Aviv a good old fashioned whooping, at times taking a 20-point lead over what was once an Israeli powerhouse. The final score settled at 79-63 but I don’t even know if the game was even that close sending the Yellow & Blue to their 8th loss in a row. In fact, the last time they won a game was in Istanbul against Fenerbahce which was kind of a fluke as Sylven Landesberg hit a last second shot that bounced around the rim for quite some time before finally dropping into the basket. That was back on March 21st, a month ago. Unfortunately, this result was to be expected as Maccabi has been listless and uninspired, playing horrendous basketball in front of only 3,000 fans. Another rough night in the life of Maccabi Tel Aviv.

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As Jerusalem seems to have gotten out of their funk and injected new life into their team, the exact opposite was occurring just a few kilometers away. Will another coaching change help? It’s clear that the coach doesn’t seem to be the only issue. Of course, the easy thing to do is always blame the coach and he certainly deserves to take some of that, but playing with only one point guard and receiving no reinforcements puts any coach at a disadvantage. Amazingly, Macabi sits in 4th and Hapoel finds themselves one place behind in 5th with 5 games left in the regular season. How will this season end is anyone’s guess, but right now it’s clear where the wind is blowing and it’s not in Maccabi’s favor.

3-Pointers Hapoel Jerusalem – Hapoel Holon
1) Amare Stoudemire didn’t play against Holon as Richard Howell and Alessandro Gentile made their Hapoel Jerusalem debuts, but that didn’t mean that Amare wasn’t in action. On the contrary, the former NBA All-Star and reigning Israeli League All-Star game MVP was such a force all over the area before the game shmoozing and having a good time with the press but also being so involved in timeouts and his teammates well-being over the course of the game. You had to see how he leaped into the air after the Curtis Jerrells game winner. Amare is just one amazing teammate, team player and human being. We are so privileged to have him playing here in Israel, one can not imagine.

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2) It was great to see both Richard Howell and Alessandro Gentile make their debuts for Hapoel Jerusalem, but as Head Coach Simone Pianigiani said it will take time for them to get into the swing of things with their new team. The Italian boss talked about how Howell was totally finished by the end of the game after playing 25 minutes and that Gentille will still need another week to really be in game shape. That’s good news for the Capital City Reds, but as I mentioned to Pianigiani it’s concerning to see how many buckets Howell missed from right underneath the basket. The former Hapoel Tel Aviv big man went 2/9 from the field and that stat has been a common sight over the season and will certainly have to be something that Hapoel will have to work on with him. There’s no question that he is an absolute force to be reckoned with on the floor, but will still need to refine his offensive skills.

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3) Other than Jerrells playing hero for Hapoel, my MVP for the evening was Travis Peterson. Not only did he score 15 points and pull down 7 rebounds, he played stellar defense. Peterson was able to get under the skin of the Holon players, make them adjust and change their shots plus fight for every possession and rebound. What a fabulous effort by a tremendous athlete. I watched him from up close and have seen him play night in and night out and he’s been an asset to Ori Allon’s team. Even on nights that he may not be an offensive force, he’s still able to do those small things that not many other players, can or want to do.

Overtime
Tu Holloway may have played very well, but the balance of the team unfortunately didn’t show the same and play as well as they have been in recent weeks. The loss knocked them out of the league’s top spot, but Holon is still a strong contender. The fact that they didn’t play their A game but still managed to stay close and almost take out Jerusalem just shows how well coached they are and credit has to be given to Dan Shamir. He didn’t seem to concerned following the loss and if he’s not that bothered, then I wouldn’t be as well.

3-Pointers Maccabi Tel Aviv – Maccabi Haifa
1) Another game, another disastrous performance by Sylven Landesberg going 9 minutes and scoring no points, grabbing no rebounds and dishing out no assists, absolutely crazy. Roie Gladstone of Sport5 also reported that he didn’t want to feature in the starting lineup as well. Not good. Guy Pnini played 16 minutes and also scored 0 points with 2 boards and 1 helper, not acceptable. As one Maccabi person said yesterday, how are we going to win when two Israelis combine for 0 points, it’s impossible. That’s certainly true.

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2) Another peculiarity is why Coach Ainars Bagatskis played 3 of his players for the full second half plus Nimrod Levi who went for over 15 of those 20 minutes. Victor Rudd, Devin Smith, Gal Mekel can’t be playing a full half, that’s just crazy. It’s clear he had no confidence in Pnini and Landesberg so that ruled them out for the final two quarters, but wow, that’s just nuts. I reminded the coach about how he said that he would not play anyone over 20-25 minuets a game when he first arrived, but that never came to fruition. With the team canceling Friday’s practice, it’s clear that the Latvian will be relieved of his duties, the only question that remains is who will take over.

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3) Maccabi Haifa Head Coach Ofer Rahimi was certainly content with his team’s effort and knows exactly how to speak to the press saying that they are going one game at a time and that Haifa still needs to clinch a playoff spit. The same was true from guard John DiBartolomeo. The Westport, Connecticut native has been starring with the Greens since 2015 and had another superb performance scoring 16 points. The soft-spoken American said, “I try not to think about myself too much, but I’m happy that I was able to hit some shots tonight to do what I can to help us if it’s either on offense or defense.”

Overtime
Will Graves went down yesterday and not only suffered a concussion, but reportedly has bleeding in his head and has been ruled out for the rest of the season. Graves has been a terrific addition to the team and the league as a whole bringing a fantastic sense of humor and love for the game to wherever he goes. Last time he faced Maccabi, Graves had a phenomenal showing with 34 points going 6/8 from 3 point land plus adding 8 rebounds. I was at that game and even though Graves out in that type of performance, Haifa lost 97-96 and kept saying that it would have only meant something should they have won. Another unselfish player on such an unselfish team. Hopefully Graves will recover quickly and get back to action sooner rather than later, he will be missed.