Befuddled – Nes Ziona & Maccabi tied up at 1-1

Nes Ziona 95-94 Maccabi Tel Aviv
Nes Ziona evened up their best of 5 quarterfinal series with Maccabi Tel Aviv, winning at home by 1-point in a hard fought battle. The Yellow & Blue took a 49-45 lead into halftime thanks to Sharon shooting by Michael Roll (20p) and Jeremy Pargo (15p/7a/7to) (10 points each at the break) but Dequan Cook (27p) and Golan Gut kept the host’s within striking distance. The second half saw even more tight play but Khalif Wyatt’s (19p) 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining gave Nes Ziona the win. Talib Zanna helped out in the victory with 14 points and 14 rebounds while Gary Browne scored 10 points and dished out 7 assists. Alex Tyus dropped 14 points as Norris Cole and Deshaun Thomas added 13 points in defeat. Game 3 will be played Saturday night in Tel Aviv at 21:10.

Hapoel Tel Aviv 98-77 Maccabi Ashdod
The Reds dominated Ashdod to tie up their best of 5 series thanks to fine place by Adrian Banks (21p), Raviv Limonad (15p) and Jerel McNeal (14p) in the win. Sek Henry led the way for Ashdod with 21 points of his own but it wasn’t enough on this night for Brad Greenberg’s crew. Game 3 will be played on Saturday night in Ashdod.

1) Sitting in the Neven Spahija Press Conference after game 1 it was clear that Maccabi was going to easily walk over Nes Ziona especially after a 32 point win in a complete victory from start to finish and take the series in short order 3-0. But the coach said that each playoff game has its own life and he was unfortunately correct as Maccabi fell by one point at Nes Ziona as the series now moves back to Tel Aviv all knotted up at 1-1. Spahija knew full well that Nes Ziona has plenty of offensive firepower and that players like Cook, Wyatt and Zanna wouldn’t be kept quiet two straight games and they certainly weren’t. “As I said in the press conference in Tel Aviv, every game has its own life and it looks like we didn’t understand it well and 95 points to give up is not acceptable. Instead of 62 they scored 95. They are an outstanding offensive team.”

2) Maccabi’s defense was weak especially in the first quarter and they gave up 28 points. Spahija was definitely unimpressed by his team’s effort or lack of it, “Bad defense by our players and we lost focus so many times during the game. If I have something to say to the players it’s about the defense in the first quarter and we didn’t make a foul. It’s not the first time this scenario has happened.” Jake Cohen also commented on the first quarter, “We wanted to be as focused as possible and every game is new no matter how many points we win game 1 by, it’s still just one win.” It’s probably actually quite amazing how much better Nes Ziona became from roughly 48 hours and 32 points earlier and I was a bit befuddled where the point difference came from.

3) That point difference primarily came from free throws as the stat sheet saw that Nes Ziona took no less that 29 free throws instead of the 15 that Maccabi took as Spahija shared his thoughts, “They are not that better than us. We had 27 assists and we lost the game. That is not acceptable for me. I will not blame the referees but they have to take care of business.” I also asked Michael Roll about the free throw discrepancy and he said that he would just say yes and let the media dive into it.” I didn’t feel very good about this game when I left the Lev Hamoshava Facility in Nes Ziona. Something just didn’t add up. The shooting percentages were close to even and even favored Maccabi, but the free throws were just totally whacked. There’s no way a team should ever have to collect 50% less free throws from the other side. It was certainly a tough pill to swallow for Spahija and for the rest of the Maccabi fans. As Spahija said, “Every game has its own life.” It did in more ways than one.

Nes Ziona drew even and have to be given credit for having their fans out in for force cheering their team on to the victory. On paper Maccabi is by far the better team, but what’s on paper is on paper and what’s on the court is on the court. Coach Nadav Zilberstein knew that game 2 at home would be the best chance to win and by putting on their best performance may just be enough to pick off Maccabi: and he was correct. Can they do it two more times? That remains to be seen, but who knows as Zilberstein was able to make the necessary adjustments to find a way to pull the rabbit out of his hat, can he do it again? Find out Saturday night. And as Roll said the keys will be, “Take care of the ball, play harder and just win.”

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