Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion shocked Hapoel Jerusalem 92-86 in the second Israel Basketball Winner League semifinal sending the wine city squad to the championship game where they will meet Maccabi Tel Aviv slated for Thursday night at Yad Eliyahu. Diamon Simpson was all world recording a double double with 28 points and 20 rebounds for an efficiency rating of 42 leading Rishon to the victory.
Together with Simpson, Cameron Long added 19 points, Nimrod Tishman scored 16 points while Darryl Monroe chipped in with 14 points in the win. J’Covan Brown led Jerusalem with 19 points, James Feldeine dropped 14 points and Amare Stoudemire added 12 points in what may have been his final game in a Jerusalem uniform.
Rishon set the tone early as they jumped out to an 11-2 lead before the fans settled into their seats thanks to Diamon Simpson’s hot hand, but Feldeine and Brown helped Jerusalem grab a 25-24 advantage after ten minutes. Adam Ariel and Tishman did the damage for Rishon to pull even at 36-36 midway through the second frame while Tamir Blatt scored 6 points to give the capital city Reds a 6-point advantage with seconds remaining in the second quarter. But Oz Blayzer sent a Hail Mary heave from well behind the half court line that banked off the backboard and in cutting the Jerusalem lead to 50-47 at halftime.
Oded Katash’s team saw Stoudemire score the first 7 points in the third quarter to help open up a 66-55 lead with five minutes left in the frame. But Simpson continued to score at will ending 30 minutes of play with 27 points as Rishon went on a 15-3 run to take a 70-69 lead into the 4th quarter.
Blayzer lit up the scoreboard for Rishon at the start of the 4th quarter as Feldeine and Brown once again tried to keep it tight. However, sharpshooting by Long and Tishman gave Guy Goodes’s squad a 84-76 advantage with 4 minutes remaining in the contest. It was then Monroe’s turn for Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion as they finished off a tidy 92-86 win to advance to Thursday night’s final against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
1a) Huge congrats to Rishon Le’Zion and their coach Guy Goodes. Who would have thought in a million years that Goodes would be the head man at Rishon Le’Zion when the season began with him as Neven Spahija’s right hand man and lead assistant coach with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Who would have thunk it?!?! Goodes has done more than a good job this season with Rishon but a masterful one since coming in just days after veteran coach Tzvika Sherf was let go. Rishon has won a number of big games this season which began with them capturing the Winner Cup preseason tournament. They knocked off Jerusalem at Beit Maccabi in fine fashion using their size to befuddle Tamir Blatt, Josh Owens and Tashawn Thomas way back when and the second game as the State Cup Quarterfinal when they used the same methodology to knock off Maccabi Tel Aviv. Big aggressive guards did them both teams in then and it did Jerusalem in once again (more on the size issue a bit later). “We were down by 11 points in the 3rd quarter and the game wasn’t over until it was over. That’s the beauty of these games. We were very mentally mature and we defeated an excellent team who began missing their shots and we took over in the 4th quarter.”
1b) Diamon Simpson! WOW!!! What a performance. The 31 year old had played for three other Israeli teams before landing in Rishon a couple of months into the season from the Alaska Aces of the Philippine Basketball Association (really?) and he put on one of those shows that the Rishon fans won’t forget for a very, very long time. 28 points and 20 rebounds for an efficiency rating of 42 is just spectacular to do on any night, but to do it in the semifinals adds to the its lore. “We played tough against a very good team,” the LA native said. “Jerusalem have many physical players who played tough. I want to win the title as do the rest of the guys. The whole team plays hard and we want the championship. We all want to win.” Bottom line is that Simpson will have a tough time to replicate his output on Thursday night against Maccabi as will the rest of the squad but what he did against Jerusalem was just magnificent. There’s just no other way to describe it.
2) Just before halftime Oz Blayzer lofted a Hail Mary of a shot that found its way to the bottom of the Jerusalem basket cutting a 6 point lead to just a 3 point Reds advantage after twenty minutes. I asked Goodes if that fluke shot made a difference for him or the club and if he spoke about it at the break, “I told the players that the 3 pointer was a sign from above. I dreamed about the result of the game the night before and it was exactly what we had, 92-86.” Nimrod Tishman echoed his coach’s sentiments, “The 3 pointer was crazy. Oz tried it all season long in practice and we always laughed at him everytime he missed, but this time he made it. Maybe this was a a sign from above.” James Feldeine felt the shot had no influence on the game at all, “It didn’t do anything as we were up 11 points in the 3rd quarter. The shot made no difference at all.”
3) Jerusalem just played with no energy and no desire from the outset of the game spotting Rishon Le’Zion a 11-2 lead out of the gate. The Reds then folded like a cheap suit midway through the third quarter after going up by 11 points as nothing they did worked. Katash who didn’t take a timeout when Rishon went on their 15-3 run to close out the frame which in itself was an issue spoke about the momentum swings, “There were three times the momentum swung during the course of the game. The first was when Rishon got off to a fast start and they gained confidence when they saw that they could do whatever they wanted to. The second was at the end of the half when we could have been up by 10 points and instead we were only ahead by 3 points and the third was when we were up by 11 points and didn’t play well on 3 defensive sets in a row. You have to give Rishon credit and we all feel that we let down the fans after a season like we had we should be playing for the title. It’s very painful.”
On to the size. This has been an issue all season long. Jerusalem’s players lack size and Rishon exposed it once again. Whether it was Tamir Blatt or Yogev Ohayon who were overshadowed by Nimrod Tishman and Cameron Long, or if it was Josh Owens or Da’Sean Butler who were dominated by Diamon Simpson or Darryl Monroe, Katash needed to find a way to make his players more effective. If it was to set screens, pick and rolls or just playing smart offense the Reds had plenty of time to figure it out and they just didn’t. Another lost opportunity. Katash spoke about what his team needs to do this off season as they look ahead to the next campaign, “We played the way we wanted to and we had a very good season. There is a feeling of failure but we will continue the way we began and we will learn from this season. We have our liabilities but we will look to build our team to be better next year.”
And One, And Some
A) A mellow James Feldeine couldn’t hide his disappointment as well as the Jerusalem star scored 14 points but was an abysmal 1/9 from beyond the arc, “This was a long game and they killed us in the last quarter. They were the better team and they deserve credit. I remember when we were leading by 11 points and then things juts fell apart. I have no explanation as to why but we will come back hungrier than every after the summer.”
B) The truth is that I have no words,” veteran guard Nimrod Tishman said following the game. “We are a group of men and we didn’t break when they had a big lead. We are one family and hopefully it will end with a title. We believed the whole game and I’m happy that we saw our character win this contest.”