1) Ioannis Sfairopoulos by KO. The Maccabi Tel Aviv Zen Master brought his A-Game to the final and totally demolished Guy Goodes from the tip-off. The Yellow & Blue bench boss set the tone and started both Othello Hunter (who was a billion % focused) and Amare Stoudemire (the MVP) off the bat to neutralize the Rishon big man Zach Hankins and Darryl Monroe from the get go holding the pair to 0 and 4 points respectively over the first half. The second half wasn’t any better for a Rishon as the Maccabi duo ended the clash with 34 points and 15 rebounds. It was an absolutely brilliant move that took Rishon out of the game before it even began. Without an inside presence, Rishon had a brutal time trying to score and had to heavily rely on outside shooting by D’Angelo Harrison which Maccabi was just going to live with.
The aforementioned Harrison had this to say, “They went big and their first lineup was huge. Deni Avdija was playing the two, Angelo Caloiaro was on me and there was Othello Hunter and Amare Stoudemire as well. They had a game plan as executed in the first half and we didn’t have a response until late. We knew they were going to do something different from the last two games. But they executed.” Coach Guy Goodes said this about the game, “It’s very hard to have to chase in a final especially with a short roster. The first half was a knockout and Maccabi hit us hard out of the gate. It was very difficult for us to out aside the difficult first half. Even coming back in the second half just wasn’t enough. The first half did us in.”
Amare Stoudemire also reflected on the strategy employed by Sfairopoulos, “We went with a big lineup tonight we had the advantage with our size, wings as well, so we had a big team. We wanted to have Harrison shoot from the outside which is supposedly one of his weaknesses but he played extremely well and they made a push in the second half.” Finally, Sfairopoulos had this to say about his game plan, “It was the key for this win and I don’t think that they expected the lineup. We surprised them and we were very strong inside and protected the paint and forced them to play a different game that they we’re used to. It was very important to establish the game in the first half.“
2) How about the MVP Amare Stoudemire? The 37-year old turned back the clock for a performance for the ages. STAT was just phenomenal and dominant at both ends of the floor while his timing was critical as he scored huge basket after huge basket in 25 minutes of play. To think that he could have been with Hapoel Jerusalem and Reds GM Guy Harel told Stoudemire thanks, but no thanks in December when Amare wanted to return to the club must be absolutely killing them after watching one of their shareholders lift the trophy for the Yellow & Blue Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about his center, “Amare is a quality player who wanted to win the trophy. Ten days ago I asked him when was the last time he won a championship and he said he didn’t remember so he wanted this a lot. He was very motivated and played very well when Rishon came to within one. He was very crucial for this championship as was the whole team.” Deni Avdija was thankful to have the 6x NBA All Star by his side, “It’s been great to have Amare with me. In fact all of the veterans who I was able to ask so many questions to and who has patience answering me. I valued them and they valued me, it was a love story.” Amare had this to say about winning the title, his first with Maccabi, “It feels great. You know a championship is a big fulfillment, you train for it, prepare for it, work hard and go through ups and downs. The championship trophy is the ultimate goal. To be 37 years old and play high level basketball is a real blessing to be around these young guys and keep up.”
3) D’Angelo Harrison was amazing as he set a finals record with 38 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and an efficiency rating of get this, 48! Incredible. I’ve been lucky to have been able to watch him play not only this season but also a couple of years ago with Hapoel Gilboa Galil. What a player is really all that I can say. He even received a ton of MVP votes for his performance which was one for the ages. Harrison spoke about the game that was and his effort, “It wasn’t enough and we let them come out with a lot of energy. They showed who they are and we didn’t have a response until it was too late. We were there at the end and that’s all you can really ask for.” Guy Goodes spoke about how critical Harrison was for the team and how he would like to see him remain with the club, “I know D’Angelo very much wants to be at Rishon and loves it here. It’s a very good situation for him and I hope that he will stay with us.” Harrison also talked about his desire to stay at Rishon but needs a week to relax, “My mindset was to win the game, now I’ll go home see my brother and family. I’ll take a week and then make a decision about my future. I love Rishon I’d like to stay but I’ll have to see what will be with the coronavirus.”
The championship marked Deni Avdija’s final game for the Yellow & Blue in a season that saw him breakout. He became a man in front of our very eyes. We saw him grow up as a player and as a person over the past few seasons, but the jump he made this campaign was remarkable. From leading the Under-20 team to the European Championship to capturing the MVP of the league and blossoming as a legitimate player on the European stage, Avdija will head to the NBA and take his talents to the greatest league in the world. We will miss him here in Israel, but we know that he will be on the grandest stage giving us joy and pride in whatever NBA jersey that he will eventually pull on.
Following the game he had this to say, “I want to tell you a story about what happened to me this morning. I was driving on the Ayalon highway on my way to practice and I was going through my playlist. I got to the sing “See you again”. I was in traffic and listened to the song and started to cry. I wiped my tears on my shirt realizing that this was probably the last time I would be practicing at Yad Eliyahu.”
How was it winning the title? “Wow. It’s a great feeling. It was a but tough with the arena empty, I’m not going to lie. We really missed the fans and the whole atmosphere for the Final 4 as well. But the Final Four is the Final Four, the last game is the last game and the championship is the championship.”
The ups and downs and heading to the NBA, “Of course I had some struggles throughout the season. Everyone had but I’m ready for a challenge and I love challenges. The entire team helped me, to be even stronger and not every player has the opportunity that I will. I’m not going to lay off of the gas and I’m going to continue to improve and go as far as I can. People won’t understand the things I’ve gone through, it’s been very difficult.”
Amare Stoudemire scored his season high in the Final with 18 points.
Maccabi’s big men dominated the paint scoring 40 points to Rishon’s 28.
Although Amare Stoudemire didn’t come off the bench, the Yellow & Blue scored 34 bench points compared to 9 points from the wine city squad.
This was STAT’s second championship in Israel with his first coming in 2017 with Hapoel Jerusalem.