The Lead Point
Omri Casspi made his return to the court for Maccabi in an 81-75 win over Hapoel Haifa and played brilliant basketball after being out for almost a year and it was clear that the minute he stepped onto the court there was an air of optimism surrounding the team. It was as if a new page had been turned over after a rough start to the season. Casspi went through a lengthy rehabs which included flying to the United States to have a procedure done in a story that was broken by The Sports Rabbi in January 2020.
So when he checked into the game on Sunday night it was if a huge weight was lifted off of everyone’s shoulders. The team, staff, management and of course the fans who although weren’t present in person were eagerly watching on TV.
Casspi’s father Shimon stood throughout the warmups and when the starting lineups were announced while his mother and wife looked on as they held their breath when he entered the fray. The 32-year old thankfully looked fine and had plenty left in the tank and he moved and grooved in the paint, making Egor Netsrenko look, well like Egor Nestrenko trying to defend an NBA player.
The former Sacramento Kings first round draft pick went 6/8 from the line as well as he put in 10 points, knowing how to use his wily veteran instincts to the best of his ability while giving hope to coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos that he will be ready for the real battles ahead beginning Thursday night against Milano in Euroleague action where Maccabi Tel Aviv need to begin to win games as they sport a 3-7 record.
There’s no question that just Casspi’s presence on the bench will be a plus for the team as the club won’t want to risk the 6”9 forward and throwing him into the fire too soon. That could be a disaster and no one wants to see a full year on the sidelines go up in smoke like so many others including most recently one of Casspi’s former teammates with the Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson.
Casspi only played 11+ minutes as his time was restricted and that will be the case going forward for at least the short term. However, if he feels fine, there’s now question Casspi will grace the court on Thursday which also happens to be American Thanksgiving, a place that Casspi called home for 10 years in the world’s greatest league. With Casspi’s return, Maccabi fans across the globe have something to be very thankful for, hope that their continental season can be turned around.
Maccabi captain John Dibartolomeo also returned to action following a year away from the game after recovering from two separate injuries and he also looked mighty fine in the 15 minutes of play he chalked up against Hapoel Haifa. John D was able to bring a sense of confidence back to the court as he ran the point with professional floor generalship which hasn’t been seen in quite some time. The guard was able to organize the offense, hit his shot and played terrific defense as the team just looked so much better and once again CONFIDENT with him back. Coach Sfairopoulos was happy to have both players back in the saddle but was cautious as to how much they will be able to contribute right away, “I’m really happy as to how they played and it’s not easy to out them back in the game along with minute restrictions. For sure they played really well and I’m happy how much we saw that we had missed them.” As for playing against Milano, “We don’t know yet and we will see how they respond. We will discuss that with the doctors, we will see what is best for them and we will go gradually.”
Dibartolomeo also spoke about being out of action fo such a long time, “I missed it. It feels great to be back, I’ve been looking forward to this day and I’ve never been away from the game for this long. I’ve been thinking about it. I wish I could share this moment with the fans, but it’s great to be here again with the guys.” As for playing in the Euroleague on Thursday, Dibartolomeo was hopeful that he will have a place on the squad, “I hope so and I will come prepared. I will be prepared for everything and I hope I can help out. My job is to come ready whether it’s to play 5 minutes or being on the bench with the guys. I’ll contribute in anyway I can.”
2) Oz Blazyer was superb for the Yellow & Blue and he was all over the court for Maccabi on both ends playing excellent offense and terrific defense. As Blayzer continues to find a home at Maccabi and with the return of Casspi, the club will have a decision to make with Dragan Bender. Blayzer had ben looking forward to sharing the court with both Casspi and Dibartolomeo and knows how important their return is to the team, “I have waited to play with them and they are both super important for us. As time goes by they will get into better shape and help us on our way.”
3) Got to give credit to Elad Hasin and Hapoel Haifa for not folding like a cheap suit and playing a very string fourth quarter which gave Maccabi and coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos fits. But credit where credit is due as his players juts didn’t give up and placed some doubt in the minds of the Maccabi players, “This wasn’t a bad game as we took some risks that paid off for us and I can take the last quarter which saw the team fight and battle all the way until the end. But to beat Maccabi you need to play 40+ minutes and tonight Maccabi had two players return in John D and Casspi.”