Shorthanded Maccabi Tel Aviv rolled over struggling Hapoel Holon 94-76 as Scottie Wilbekin went off for 30 points in the victory. Holon kept the contest close throughout the first half, but the yellow-and-blue clamped down on defense over the final twenty minutes to record the win.
Maccabi who were playing with only 8 regular rotation players due to injuries were led by Wilbekin who went 8/14 from 3-point range and added 3 assists in his 30-point performance. In addition, Deni Avdija notched 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 blocks in front of a scout from the San Antonio Spurs, Tyler Dorsey added 12 points and 9 rebounds, Tarik Black and Yovel Zoosman each scored 10 points a piece while veteran center Othello Hunter scored 6 points, pulled down 7 boards and dished out 5 assists. Marcus Foster was the Holon high scorer with 20 points, Rich Howell chipped in with a double double of 16 points and 12 rebounds and TJ Cline chipped in with 13 points in the defeat.
Marcus Foster and Scottie Wilbekin traded triples to get the game off to a quick start while the latter added another pair of 3-pointers early on, but it was Rich Howell who sparked Holon to a 16-13 lead midway through the first quarter. Foster continued to score while Troy Caupain and TJ Ciine added the visitors tally, but the yellow-and-blue kept it close thanks to Tyler Dorsey as Holon held a 30-27 advantage after ten minutes of action.
Yovel Zoosman hit a couple of long distance shots from beyond the arc as did Jake Cohen to give Maccabi a 40-36 lead with 5:14 remaining in the second quarter. Deni Avdija slammed home a fast break dunk, however, Guy Pnini began to get hot and Howell continued to find the basket for Holon, but triples by Dorsey and Deni Avdija kept Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad ahead 55-51 at halftime.
Wilbekin was up to his old tricks at the start of the third quarter with two more 3-pointers to give Maccabi a 63-57 lead midway through the frame. Cline scored a couple of layups for Holon as they continued to hang around but a Zoosman floater gave the yellow-and-blue a 71-62 after thirty minutes of play.
Guy Pnini and Scottie Wilbekin each hit triples to get the fourth quarter underway but the latter continued his scoring spree with another triple and jumper in the lane as Maccabi kept the lead 79-71 with 5:19 left in regulation time. Yet another Wilbekin 3-pointer, a Hunter putback and an Avdija layup helped the hosts break away and close out a 94-76 victory.
1) Scottie Wilbekin was on FIRE! The guard is playing arguably his best basketball and is flourishing under coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos. The Florida Gators product looks absolutely unstoppable with the basketball and seems to be able to hit any shot, anywhere and at anytime. “Wilbekin made some amazing 3-pointers,” commented Holon captain Shlomi Harush after the game as the 26 year old ravaged the visitor’s defense. Amazing may be the understatement of the year for Maccabi as Wilbekin is the engine that makes the team run. “Scottie was on fire and I hope he keeps it up,” said Deni Avdija. But it hasn’t been just this game. Wilbekin has been shooting 55% from 3 in the Israeli league and 48.9% in the Euroleague. Only Alexey Shved has attempted more triples in continental play with 95 compared to Wilbekin’s 90 with Vasilije Micic and Darrun Hilliard tied for third place with 72. As for 3’s made, Wilbekin leads the EL with 44 while Shane Larkin is behind him with 38. “Not bad at all, I think he did alright,” exclaimed Othello Hunter. Yes, not bad at all.
2) However, of course there is always a however, Wilbekin has thrived in a system that allows him not to be the primary ball handler and with the loss of two point guards, John Dibartolomeo and Nate Wolters, Maccabi will need to find someone fairly quickly. In the Israeli league it was clear that the Yellow & Blue can handle most of the teams and a 40 minute game without a true point guard but the Euroleague is a whole other story and Coach Sfairopoulos knows it, “We will continue with the players we have and look for one or two players. For sure we have to bring a point guard, but the market is tight.” Sfairopoulos does think that even with the squad now Maccabi can compete. “I believe that with the current roster we can fight in the Euroleague.” Is the team also looking at Israelis as well? “We are looking at the Israelis as well but the market is tough, but we will see if it’s possible.” Hunter backed up the coach, “I like what we got and I don’t think we need anybody else. I think we can do it. But if we do bring in somebody, we will welcome them in with open arms and hopefully they are ready to work.” It’s true Maccabi can compete and hold tight until Wolters returns, but Omro Casspi is also out which means that the roster is 3 players short of the optimal team that was put together and let’s face it, that’s a lot. I do commend Hunter and Coach Sfairopoulos having faith in the players that are there which means others have to step up (I’ll get to that soon) but all in all the most important thing for Maccabi at this point is to find the right player who can slot right in and not mess with the chemistry, that’s the key. “We can’t find whatever we would want but we can find the best solution. We are searching, we don’t have a lot of options but we want to bring in a quality player, a point guard that can organize the team,” Sfairopoulos said.
3) Deni Avdija stepped up as did Yovel Zoosman and Maccabi was rewarded with a hard earned victory. With only 8 players from the regular rotation, the Yellow & Blue had a challenging evening but made it through at the end with flying colors. Hunter talked about the need for everyone to be locked in with the absences, “We had other guys step up and we know that the guys can step up. Everybody has to be ready to play.” Wilbekin also spoke the need to step up, “We’re just trying to get a win with a depleted roster which we knew would be hard, but Zoos stepped up and he was poised while also playing the pick and roll and solid defense. He’s been really playing well the last couple of games I think in general everyone has to step up and do a little bit more. We need Zoos to do what he’s been doing and Deni as well.” Finally, Coach Sfairopoulos congratulated his players on a job well done under extenuating circumstances, “It’s not easy for the players to use different lineups but they gave their best and responded well. I am happy how they played the game.”
There was an interesting set midway through the second quarter when there was a referee’s official timeout followed by a Maccabi timeout with Holon taking out the ball. Caupian blew the inbounds pass, Jake Cohen made the steal and sent an outlet to Avdija who went in for a superb dunk. It looked like a play designed just to get the potential NBA lottery pick going and going did he ever with a fabulous contest but sometimes he also looks back at what he could have done better, “I think about my mistakes but I can’t lower my head and cry about what happened before, I just have to give my best. It was fun to get a lot of minutes and I think we are a very good team which has guys who do a great job. At the end of the day, you can be sure I’ll give 100%.”
The key to the game was Maccabi holding Holon to just 25 second half points as they locked down on defense. After giving up 51 points in the first half you knew that Coach Sfairopoulos would have choice words for his troops at the break, “We had no problems offensively but we spoke at halftime that we have to play better defense, be aggressive and smart. That’s what we did in the second half and made an easy game.” Bottom line is that Maccabi has to bring their “A” game defensively against CSKA on Thursday or else they will be in big, big trouble.
What’s wrong with Hapoel Holon? The team has been a mess from day one this season and is just not jelling as a team. They haven’t been able to find a rhythm at all which led to coach Sharon Drucker leaving the club last week. “It’s a very tough situation to be here and Sharon is an excellent coach and a friend but I am here as the coach for right now,” said interim coach Matan Harush. Captain Shlomi Harush spoke about how the season is now on the players and the team can’t just keep switching coaches, “It’s all on the players now and there should be a coach within a few days and will help us play together as a team.” TJ Cline was optimistic that things are beginning to get better and the team has turned a corner with defense being the key, “Things will get better for us. Sometimes our issues have been rebounding or ball movement or defense. We need to come together on the defense. If you lock in on defense we can take those shots. I think once we figure that out we will be a very good team.” Coach Harush also believes that with the addition of G League Player of the Year Angel Delgado, things will also begin to look up, “Delgado can really help us out and raise our level. But we still have to see what his fitness is. Once he comes in and Ohayon returns we will be a force in Israel and in Europe.”
They said it…
Scottie Wilbekin on James Feldeine’s 41 point performance and if he was trying to match it – “No, not at all. But great game for him. I saw it on Twitter and I gave it a like”