1) BOOM! What. A. Shot. Adam Ariel buries an off balance jumper with no time left on the clock to send Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion in to the finals for the second straight season and absolutely crush Hapoel Jerusalem. Ariel is a shooter, plain and simple. He knows his spots and is just an unconscious shooter. Did he draw up the winner? Probably not, but he’s such a fabulous shooter that he can hit from almost anywheres on the court. It was fitting for the former Jerusalem youth product to haunt his old team, although he says that any hard feelings are way in the past but I am sure he felt pretty good nailing what was something special, very special. “My heart is racing a million miles an hour right now,” Ariel said. “It’s unbelievable. We deserved to win and this is for my teammates and fans. This was a huge win for us and there is no one happier than me that the ball went in. It’s on to Tuesday.” His coach Guy Goodes was at a loss for words, “Adam’s basket was incredible and I even think that the ball went by the backboard. God opened up the gate for us and the ball went in.” A stunned captain Oz Blayzer had this to say, “Adam Ariel deserves this. It’s not the first and not the second time he has saved us.” Finally the newest recruit Zach Hankins, who himself has been so critical to the success of Rishon said, “Adam is a great teammate and we always believe in him every time he shoots, today was no different. He’s a shooter and shooters shoot.”
2) How key was Zach Hankins in this win? BIG TIME! The big man who arrived during the coronavirus break has been spectacular for Guy Goodes’s team. Whether it’s scoring, defense or anything else Rishon needs, it seems that Hanky McSpanky is there. Need a block? he’s there. How about a board? No problem. A bucket in the paint? Sure. A big time dunakroo? He’ll do that too. Hankins was brought in specifically to fix a weakness in the squad and he’s done exactly that. Rishon has been able to defeat now both Jerusalem and Maccabi, something that they hadn’t been able to do before the break. Goodes hit the jackpot. “He’s given us a tremendous amount,” explained Goodes. “He is 2”11 in the paint, scored 16 first half points and dominated. He was the piece of the puzzle that we needed.” Blayzer also commented on Hankins’s play, “I believe everyone can see how crucial he is. He’s under the basket, brings energy, amazing. Any team that gets him will only gain from his presence.” Hankins himself spoke about the game, “The game was insane. We came out with an almost perfect half but Jerusalem is a great team and we knew their third quarter was going to be good. We just had to weather the storm and come out on top.”
3) And what a game it was for Rishon. The wine city squad started out super hot but the third quarter was definitely one that they would like to forget, one where they gave up 41 points. But all in all, Rishon was prepared and ready to go from the tipoff as justice was served when Ariel nailed that 3-pointer. It was clear which team came out ready and raring to go as Jerusalem was nowhere to be found. “We came into the game and worked hard,” said Blayzer. “That’s why we came back to play, to win a title. That’s the only reason we came back instead of sitting at home. We gave up a lot to be here and there’s nothing more exciting. I’ve been here twice and it’s time that the trophy comes home with us.” Goodes also reflected on the importance of the win, “It says a lot about our club and about the players, especially those who have been with us for two seasons. I always said to management that there has to be a continuation which has been proven to be critical once again.”
The big losers once again were Oded Katash and Hapoel Jerusalem who were left standing at the alter in the semifinals for the third straight year in the Final Four having been knocked out by Hapoel Holon in 2017/18 and then Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion the past two seasons. Not the way the Reds wanted to end their season once again that’s for sure. The blame needs to be placed squarely on the staff for not having the team ready to go from the tipoff, spotting Rishon a huge lead, one that although was not insurmountable set the tone and left Jerusalem trying to dig out of a hole. Instead of being the ones chased, they were the chasers and that’s never a good thing when you play in a Final 4. Katash had spoken about the mental state of the players and the importance of that factor and he has to be given plenty of credit for working with his players so well since returning from the break but something went wrong over this past week which is surprising because he had said in the pregame press conference as to how well things were going. Of course without J’Covan Brown and Tashawn Thomas Jerusalem had lost a huge 1-2 punch but Jeremy Pargo made up for that with an incredible showing, however, many of his teammates were nowhere to be found.
“I don’t have an explanation,” Katash said. “We had great energy in the lockerroom before the game and we knew what we were heading into after beating them 5 times this season. We started off horribly and we were just shocked form the get go. This happened to us last season against the same team and when Jerusalem loses a chance to take home a title it’s disappointing and that’s how we feel.
They came out and kind of punched us in the mouth,” John Holland added. “We weren’t able to run our things and couldn’t get into the flow of our offense. But regardless we fought back and tied up the game. I don’t think that the first quarter determined the game. There was a lot for energy, but it didn’t have much to do with the game as we were able to overcome that.”
The forward continued, “You saw the last spectacular play and that’s what you see but it was a long game with a lot plays that could have gone either way. Sometimes you’re on the right side of it and sometimes the wrong. Tonight we were on the wrong side, but that’s life. Sometimes you lose and sometimes you win. They came out with a lot of energy and they were prepared. We were too and we fought back, we got to point where we were right there, but the basketball gods said that we weren’t going to win today.”
* While Zach Hankins and Maccabi Rishon controlled the paint in the first half outscoring Jerusalem 34-14, the second half was 32-22 in favor of the Reds.
* Fast break points were the same story with Rishon in control 16-2 but were outpaced by Jerusalem in half number two 13-5.
* Jerusalem averaged 21 assists per game this past season but only dished out 13 with Tamir Blatt only notching 2 whereas he average 6 a contest. The key was that the Rishon defense cut off the passing lane time and time again up high and down low there was always a white jersey waiting for the ball.
* I said before the game that Rishon was going to need both Oz Blayzer and Adam Ariel to hit double digits in order to win as their season averages sat on 9 points per contest and bingo what did we get? 16 and 11 respectively with the biggest points coming on Ariel’s game winning triple.
* Nimrod Levi who had been so good in the playoffs did a disappearing act scoring only 2 points in 11 minutes of play after scoring 18 in over 20 minutes of action in the playoff series against Nes Ziona.
* The other Nimrod, Nimrod Tishman hit a pair fo clutch triples and had 8 points which is more than his usual 4.7 points per game as he won the battle of Nimrods.
* Finally, Jeremy Pargo who was key for the Reds comeback in a lethal 3rd quarter, set a Final 4 record with 32 points for Jerusalem hitting six 3-pointers, but they were all for not at the end of the day.