“We’re The Israeli Trio” – Deni Avdija looks back at Maccabi’s 76-65 Semifinal win over Nahariya

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Maccabi Tel Aviv disposed of pesky Nahariya 76-65 to move into the Winner Cup Finals where they’ll face Hapoel Jerusalem. The northern squad kept the game close for the first thirty minutes but the Yellow & Blue’s quality and depth showed in the 4th quarter as they closed out an eleven point victory. Scottie Wilbekin scored 14 points, Tarik Black added 13 points and Omri Casspi rounded out the Maccabi players in double figures with 11 points. Jeff Adrien dropped 17 points and Egor Koulechov chipped in with 16 points for Nahariya.

Scottie Wilbekin and Tarik Black helped Maccabi to a 22-16 lead after ten minutes as former Yellow & Blue big man Itay Segev did most of the damage for Nahariya in the first quarter. However, both squads had trouble scoring in the second frame as Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s side took a 3-point 34-31 lead into halftime.

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Jake Cohen, Nate Wolters and Othello Hunter opened up a 10 point advantage on Nahariya but Egor Koulechov hit a pair of triples to pull with 3, 55-52 by the end of the third quarter. Zoosman, Avdija, Casspi and Black scored early and often in the final frame while Jerel McNeal and Dominic Waters beth fouled out as Maccabi punched their ticket to the final against Hapoel Jerusalem.

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The Sports Rabbi’s 3-Pointers
1) One of my favorite parts of Maccabi’s win over Nahariya was seeing Omri Casspi on the floor together with Deni Avdija and Yovel Zoosman. I found it absolutely fascinating to see the three Israelis playing all at once. This was the present with the future of Blue & White basketball and I was loving it. Not that I don’t enjoy to see all of the players on the court but watching a ten year NBA veteran, a future NBA Lottery draft pick and a potential NBA talent all at once was lots of fun and something we shouldn’t take for granted. I thought back to the many articles and press conferences of the past where we were all waiting to see a true blue native born Israeli playing significant minutes for Maccabi and it’s been a long time. Now there are 3.

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I spoke to Deni Avdija about the opportunity to play with Omri and Yovel, “We’re the Israeli Trio and it always great to have Israelis playing together, especially when it’s the three of us working together. It’s great really great to see.” Zoosman echoed his teammates feelings, “We have an Israeli fraternity and slowly but surely we will play even better together. I’m very content with the situation as Deni and I already know how to play with each other and Omri has arrived with a tremendous amount of experience and an amazing career. We’re happy to learn and we want to learn as much as we can from what he has achieved.”

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One interesting fact from the game that was is that Zoosman was tasked with stopping Nahariya’s top player Dominic Waters and stop him he did. The Euro level guard not only fouled out but was frustrated throughout the 25 minutes he was on the court. “The coach wanted me to match up with Dominic Waters,” Zoos said. “He is their leading player and I’m happy I was able to close him down. I’m not afraid of challenges and I’m happy that I’m being given the opportunity to defend their best player.”

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2) This past week, I had the chance to do an in-depth interview with Nate Wolters on Media Day which will be released on Wednesday October 2nd so look out for that, but I also had the opportunity to talk with him about the win over Nahariya as well right after the game, “This was a good win although we didn’t come into the game with the same energy. We picked it up second half. Nahariya’s a good team with talent and they played really hard. We didn’t match that intensity right away but then we responded. The group in the 4th quarter did a good job extending the lead and things fo chippy but we were able to make plays at the end.” Coach Sfairpoulos reflected on the game that was, “We had a typical Israeli league game where two teams fight hard for the win, we controlled most of the game but our opponents didn’t give up. We had a lead and they came back but finally at the end we played out game and we broke our opponent and won our game. We’re very happy we won and it’s good for mentally and this game gave us a great chance to learn the Israeli league for now.”

Zoosman also looked back at the contest, “This was a very aggressive game and we can take a lot from it for the upcoming season. The players who have arrived from other European teams see that it’s a tough and aggressive league. We didn’t share the ball well enough, but we will watch the video and move forward. We will take the win and we can’t always play the perfect game.” While Avdija also chimes on his his feelings about the matchup that was, “This was a great win for us and any win is good as it helps us improve and also gives us more confidence. It also allows us to work on things in real time that we do in practice. It took me some time to get into the flow of the game and I began under a bit of pressure, but with time that will get better as you saw in the second half I was rolling.”

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3) What was learnt from the game? Coach Sfairpoulos spoke about what he felt his team could take away from the 40 minutes with Nahariya, “All of the players need to be ready to perform the best that they can. We played 4 games in 6 days and the opponents only two. I’m not counting this as an excuse, we play for Maccabi Tel Aviv and we have to play everyday and perform the best that we can. We have to learn how to play back to back and we need to be ready and perform well after a big win or a big loss. We can lose a game but we have to know how to be ready.” Is Maccabi ready for the start of the Euroleague season when they visit Khimki next Thursday night? “We will use one more game in the final against Hapoel Jerusalem and it’s a chance to play one more good game and then we will focus on Khimki. All of the games we have played so far will help us to be ready in the beginning of the season which will be the beginning for all of the teams. We will be ready.”

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Overtime
The Yellow & Blue will now look forward to an Israeli Classico Final against Hapoel Jerusalem which will provide Maccabi another strong test ahead of the Euroleague, but of course it’s not just a test, it’s a final with a title on the line. Will Maccabi hoist the trophy once again at the Holon Arena just as they did a couple of years ago? “Taking home the title would be a good start to the season,” explained Wolters. “It will be a tough game and we’ve had a number of games, it would be nice to get a win on Saturday. Jerusalem is a good team so we have to play really well if we want to win. It will be a fun game.” Avdija knows the importance of being ready for such a contest, “The Final will be a difficult game and we won’t take it for granted. We will come into the game ready to go and look at the scouting reports. It will be a good matchup but you just never know.”