Hapoel needed overtime to defeat Maccabi 104-94 in the Tel Aviv Derby. The Reds had the upper hand throughout the contest but a 25 point fourth quarter from the yellow-and-blue’s Scottie Wilbekin sent the game into the extra session. However, Hapoel was able to take advantage of the energetic home crowd to take the victory despite losing their captain Raviv Limonad and Jerel McNeal after having fouled out. Tomer Ginat and Richard Howell each scored 18 points while Jamal Shuler dropped 14 points for Hapoel. Wilbekin finished the evening with 36 points for Maccabi.
After a slow and sluggish start to the Derby both squads picked up the action midway through the first frame as Ginat and Roll each finished with 7 points apiece for either side as Hapoel took a 21-13 lead after ten minutes. Maccabi came storming back as Pargo, Tyus and Wilbekin all scored to pull the yellow-and-blue to within three points, but Howell answered back with 5 points for Hapoel to increase their lead to 30-20 with six minutes to go in the half. Both sides exchanged buckets the rest of the way as the Reds took a 44-36 lead into halftime.
Jake Cohen and Wilbekin each drained a pair of triples to cut the Hapoel lead to 52-50 with 4:14 left in the third quarter but the Reds went on a 9-2 run with Howell scoring six of the points to end the frame with a 61-52 lead. Ten points by Wilbekin and a three by Roll closed the gap to just 3-points, 73-70 with 5:16 left in the contest but an 8-0 run gave Hapoel a commanding 81-70 lead. However, Wilbekin scored 15 points over the last 3:44 including a pair of free throws with less than a second on the clock to send the game into overtime all knotted up at 88-88. Without Limond and McNeal, youngster Yam Madar and Shuler took center stage and outplayed Maccabi in the extra session to send the Hapoel faithful into ecstasy with a 104-94 win.
1) Hapoel deservedly won the Derby, with no ifs ands or buts. The Reds outplayed Maccabi at every turn, led throughout the contest and dictated the play. Coach Danny Franco was able to take Maccabi out of their happy zone and totally stop their big men, Alex Tyus who scored only 2 points in 17 minutes, Johnny O’Bryant who had 1 point in 14 minutes, Tarik Black 7 points in 20+ minutes and Angelo Caloiaro with 6 points (1/8) in 24 minutes of action. Jake Cohen had a decent second half but only finished the night with 10 points in 20 minutes. Not good. I asked Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos about the inside trouble that Maccabi faced, “We tried to pass inside and make layups but unfortunately we didn’t score. Some we missed and we couldn’t find a way to score. When there are 3 players attacking a player inside then they have to pass. If 5 players are in the paint you have to pass outside and that’s what happened. We had some offensive rebounds where we could have taken the shot and passed outside but that is lack of concentration and clear mind and not reading the game well and not making good decisions and we paid for that.”
2) Maccabi seemed to be a bit high on themselves going into the game and Wilbekin made it clear that that certainly may have been one of the deciding factors in the game, “We didn’t come out the way we should have and we didn’t come out playing the same way like we did the last few weeks. We can’t just think that we won a couple of games that it’s going to be easy and that teams are going to give us an easy time. It’s a tough lesson to learn in a big game like this where you really want to win. But hopefully we can learn that and put it behind us and focus on the next game.” In essence Maccabi was stopped for speeding. Coach Sfairopoulos said that the players were ready, they understood the importance of the game but couldn’t come away with the win. However, he knows full well that in the two games that were “musts” against Israeli league competition he lost; the Derby and the State Cup clash at Rishon Le’Zion. To top that off some Maccabi players responded to the rabid Hapoel crowd throughout the game, but as professionals they need to know to just ignore and move on.
3) You can’t blame Scottie Wilbekin for the defeat as he had one of those games. Yes, the one where he just looked like the star of the show. 36 points, 25 of which in money time plus a pair of free throws to tie up the game with .2 of a second left on the clock while being taunted by the Hapoel fans. I asked Wilbekin about the two losses in important games against Israeli competition and he seemed a bit annoyed at the question first saying that Maccabi beat them (HTA) this season and that they got one, which is correct but that was under Coach Spahija and Goodes. Under the new staff they are 0-2. Wilbekin responded as to how it may impact them going forward, “We understand as a team that this was a really important game for Maccabi, the fans and the people of Israel but we can’t just focus on this game. It’s over and we have a lot of games left to go. We really wanted it but now we have Panathinaikos and we have to focus on them.”
18-year old Yam Madar was phenomenal coming to Hapoel’s rescue once Limonad and McNeal fouled out as the youngster played fantastic minutes in overtime hitting crucial free throws in money time. In fact, he outplayed Deni Avdija who looked lost on the court in his 5:20 of action and didn’t take a single shot. Tomer Ginat had high praise for the guard, “When Yam went to take his free throws in money time I told him you’re a real man. To play in overtime in a Derby and do what he did is really something special. He’s a talent and he has a rosy future” Coach Franco also complimented Madar, “When Yam came in he deserved to be there. He sent us home with a lot to think about. He came into a tough situation but we have a lot of players who trust him. Most importantly I hope that he can be an influencing factor on Thursday night in Ashdod just like he was against Maccabi.”