Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Jerusalem 93-82 in a game that was never in doubt from the gate go. Deni Avdija helped the Yellow & Blue jump all over the Reds while Scottie Wilbekin, Angelo Caloiaro and Othello Hunter made sure that Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad maintained the lead in the 11-point victory. Wilbekin led the way with 23 points and 7 assists, Caloiaro added 16 points while Avdija scored 15 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, dished out 4 assists and made 4 steals in the win. Tamir Blatt scored 20 points to lead the Reds, James Feldeine chipped in with 18 points and John Holland had 15 points in the loss.
Deni Avdija made his presence felt early and often as he ripped off 7 points and an assist to help Maccabi Tel Aviv to a 13-7 lead midway through the first quarter. Othello Hunter with a couple of big time blocks and points along with Angelo Caloiaro’s baskets and a buzzer beater by Avdija gave the Yellow & Blue a 27-14 lead after ten minutes of play.
Jerusalem’s James Feldeine began to heat up while Idan Zalmanson scored points but Jake Cohen and Scottie Wilbekin got busy to give Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad a 48-27 advantage with 3:16 left in the second quarter. Caloiaro and Hunter added buckets as well to take a 54-37 lead into halftime.
Maccabi were up to their old tricks to begin the third quarter as baskets by Caloiaro and Wilbekin were followed up by an Avdija dunk to bump the score up to 62-39 midway through the frame. Yovel Zoosman and Amar’e Stoudemire continued to find the bucket for Maccabi while Tamir Blatt quietly began to score but didn’t make a huge dent as the Yellow & Blue went into the fourth quarter with a 77-56 lead.
Feldeine and Blatt got their shots and pulled to within 14 points, 81-67 with 6:59 left in regulation forcing Maccabi to call timeout to settle the troops. Jeremy Pargo and John Holland ht from deep but so did Scottie Wilbekin while Hunter scored in the paint to wrap up a 93-82 victory.
1) Deni Avdija hit them hard and hit them early. The NBA Draft Lottery prospect came out and put an early smack down on Jerusalem as the Reds didn’t know what hit them. With 11 points on 5/7 from the field plus 2 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist in the first quarter, Avdija set the tone for Maccabi’s big win right from the get go. Avdija was the best player in the floor and it’s just a shame that we won’t be able to see him play in the Euroleague because he would be dominant. Sure, he’d face some tough opposition but the thought of seeing him play at that level for a year before heading to the NBA would be very enticing for basketball fans across Europe. I know we don’t like to compare him to Luka but I will say this, he could have a Luka-esque season if he did play here in Europe with the opportunity to play a leading role which he was only beginning to see at the start of 2020.
2) Is Angelo Caloiaro playing for a contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv or perhaps another Euroleague team? It certainly looks like it with the points and play he’s been putting up the past couple of weeks and it’s no secret that Coach Sfairpoulos loves him. However, he has also been linked with Barcelona and Baskonia and Maccabi has stated that they will only negotiate with the players once the Israeli league season is over. Meanwhile, players are being inked to contracts across the continent while the Yellow & Blue play into the summer. Sfairopoulos addressed the situation, “We’re still playing and we are an Israeli team in the Israeli league. We have been playing all season and we’re in first and we’re focused on winning the championship. If you negotiate with players now it will not be good for the chemistry of the team and our goal is to win the championship. After the league ends we will talk to the players whose contracts have ended to try to keep them on our team. We have 8 players already signed and had a very good season in the Euroleague. We will then see what positions we are missing which should be maybe one, two or three players. We are all working so the moment we are finished the Israeli League then we can finish the roster for next season.”
3) It was interesting to see Tamir Blatt play the two as Jeremy Pargo manned the point for the latter stages of the game and it bore fruit for Blatt Jr. with 20 points overall. With Blatt signing a 3-year deal with Alba Berlin, he’ll be looking to show what he’s got and what he can do at the highest levels. His former assistant coach Liam Flynn as well as Sharon Avrahami feel he can succeed in the Euroleague and you can see what they said by clicking on this link. Will Blatt’s coach Oded Katash play him together with Pargo a bit more? “We went to four guards they were able to bring us back into the game but it may not work every time. I wouldn’t take much from our comeback and I’m much more concerned about our first half.” Well it doesn’t look like it, but don’t count it out as Jerusalem continues to rebuild and refine what they’ve got.
Speaking of refining, Jerusalem will have to make sure they don’t fall into the same low energy situation again, especially in the quaterfinals or else their dream of facing Maccabi one more time in a wine take all final will be just that, a dream. James Feldeine spoke about why the team came out flat, lWe got no fans and it’s tough. We’ve been doing the same thing for the last two months practicing at home and sometimes it gets to you and today was the wrong day for it to get to you. We had some chemistry and were missing two of our best players. We can practice but there are things you can’t teach and it’s those little things we are missing. But we’ve got two weeks to fix it before the final four and I personally think we can beat them we just got to play better for 40 minutes.” Oded Katash also spoke about what went wrong against Maccabi, “It wasn’t pleasant and we played 25 horrible minutes. There were a number of things that weren’t good from our body language to the energy we brought to the court. They also beat us in every category and battle for the ball. Perhaps this was a game that we needed our fans especially when we play here. The fans who would normally be here are watching at home and we have to play with the same energy knowing that they are rooting for us.” Looks like not having the fans in the stands will play a big, very big factor as we head into the postseason.