Maccabi Tel Aviv dropped Hapoel Tel Aviv 87-63 to sweep the Reds and advance to the Final Four semifinals where they await the winner of the Hapoel Eilat and Nes Ziona series. The Yellow & Blue didn’t waste any time to show that they were the better team on this night and in the series as they raced out to a 17-3 lead after five minutes of action and never looked back. Jake Cohen and Scottie Wilbekin each scored 14 points while DeAndre Kane added 10 points and 13 rebounds in the win. Raviv Limonad led Hapoel with 13 points and Tomer Ginat added 12 points and 11 boards in the loss.
Maccabi jumped out to an 11-1 lead thanks to triples by Yovel Zoosman and DeAndre Kane plus four points by center Tarik Black who also picked up his second foul sending him to the bench. Wilbekin and Alex Tyus picked up the slack over the second half of the first quarter to take a 27-15 points lead after ten minutes.
Five different Yellow & Blue players scored for Maccabi to open the second frame as the hosts took a 39-19 lead with five minutes remaining in the half. Kane rattled off 4 quick points as coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad went into the break ahead 51-25.
Rich Howell tried to dent the Maccabi advantage at the start of the third quarter but Cohen and Tyus kept pace for the Yellow & Blue. Jerel McNeal helped the Reds cut the lead to 16 points but John DiBartolomeo drilled a 3-pointer to give his squad a 64-48 lead after thirty minutes.
Jamal Shuler and Ginat scored early on in the 4th quarter for Hapoel but Wilbekin and Black kept Maccabi ahead 72-55 midway through the final frame. Cohen and Zoosman dominated the final few minutes to capture the 87-63 victory and advance to the Final Four where they will face the winners of the Hapoel Holon and Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion series in the semifinals.
1) Maccabi was the better team in this series hands down, it was never in doubt. Sfairpoulos has so many weapons on his bench at every position in the Israeli League it’s actually scary. The other huge advantage for the Yellow & Blue is that you never know who will be the star of the game. One day it can be Jake Cohen, the next Scottie Wilbekin and the day after that it could be DeAndre Kane, Tarik Black or Alex Tyus; you just never know who will do the most damage. On the other hand, Maccabi played stifling defense in the first half and held the Reds to just 25 points and ended the series by halftime of the third game. The coach was very happy following the contest and dedicated the series win to trainer Regev Fanan and chairman Shimon Mizrahi due to the chants directed towards them by the Hapoel fans throughout the series. “We were the better team, the best team and didn’t give any chance for our opponents to fight for something good. We had an excellent game defensively especially the first half with high energy and I think it was the best half we had all season.”
2) DeAndre Kane was a beast and was absolutely all over the court both on the offensive side and the defensive side of the game. He was locked. 10 points, 13 rebounds including 5 of the offensive variety, 2 assists and one steal; not a bad day at the office. Coach Sfairpoulos praised his defensive stopper, “He had a great game and was extra motivated after what happened in the previous games and I think his statistics show how big an effort he gave for the game. We really like him and have supported him the whole season including when he had a personal problem. Now he is giving everything back for the love that we gave him.” Captain John DiBartolomeo also talked about Kane’s importance and contribution, “DeAndre is amazing. He’s the type of guy you know will step up in these situations. He’s an emotional and intense player and he’s one of those guys that brings everyone with him with his energy.”
3) How about Yovel Zoosman? Didn’t I just write about him in this space after last game? It’s amazing how the 2019 NBA Draft candidate has raised the level of his play in the playoffs from the regular season and not only that, Zoos has done it against the club’s biggest rival, Hapoel Tel Aviv in 3 intense Derbies. Now that’s not easy! Check out his stats: Regular season 24.4mins, 7.4ppg, 3.5rpg, 2.4apg, 8.5eff. Playoffs 24.7mins, 11.3ppg, 3.3rpg, 3.3apg, 14eff. But it’s not just the stats, it’s also the confidence and drive that Zoosman showed in three super difficult games to play in. Dibartolomeo spoke about the young gun, “He’s just getting more comfortable. He works extremely hard and he’s always trying to find his way. He’s continued to get better throughout the year from last year and he just continues to improve. That’s why you see him playing as best as he can in money time.” I wanted to know if playing against Hapoel Tel Aviv part of the reason he was so much more involved? Zoosman said he’s not sure, “I don’t know if the opponent helped give me a push. We really wanted to win with everything that’s gone on with the fans. The Derby before the playoffs was also my birthday and I said I don’t want them (Hapoel) to win on my birthday, that’s how I went into the playoff series.” #50 continued, “I came into this series with a tremendous amount of confidence with much more aggressiveness. I felt I could have given more in the regular season and I knew that I could contribute more to the team in a variety of ways.”
Hapoel Tel Aviv were just outclassed against Maccabi as Beer Sheva were against Jerusalem. There was a huge gap between the teams and that has been seen all season long between the top 4 teams and the rest of the pack. Hapoel will now undergo some changes most probably including changing the man on the sidelines Coach Danny Franco. In fact the rumors are now swirling all over the league including Dan Shamir the Hapoel Holon Coach being tied to the New Zealand Breakers and Eilat’s Coach Sharon Drucker is rumored to replace Shamir. Amare Stoudemire is at an impasse with Jerusalem, Nate Wolters will be signing with Maccabi, Johnny O’Bryant is heading to EFES, Michael Roll is a wanted man by Panathinaikos and the list goes on and on and on. With time all everything will become clear as the funny season is now upon us just as we hit the Final Four. And away we go!