We gotta start with TJ Cline’s debut for the Yellow & Blue against his former club Hapoel Holon in what was a 100-81 win for Maccabi Tel Aviv. Not a bad first game for the newcomer with 9 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in close to 14 minutes of action. Watching Cline’s excitement and energy on the court is absolutely addictive as the Richmond Spiders product has continuously improved at each one of his stops. Whether it’s boxing out in the paint, leaping into get air to grab a board or knockdown a prefect elbow triple, Cline’s got all the tools on the court as well as the intangibles that makes him a great player and even more so a great teammate. On the bench he’s always cheering on his team, on the court his enthusiasm is second to none. He’s matured as a player each year he was with Holon as his statistics always went on an upward trend. That was also true in his stop with Brescia where he was able to play not only in the Italian league but the EuroCup as well. With that experience in tow, Maccabi knew exactly the type of player they were keying in for.
“TJ is a player that knows the Israeli league and will provide energy,” began coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos. “His debut was very positive and I am satisfied with his performance.” As for Cline, he was thrilled to be able to get on the court for the first time in Yellow & Blue after having watched his new team down Holon in the State Cup semifinals from the bench, “It’s an honor to be here and it’s a privilege. I’ll give it my all and the team has done everything to make me feel like part of the family. These guys have played at a very high level whether it’s the NBA and the Euroleague and they made my job that much easier.”
As for facing his former team Holon in his first game back in the Holy Lane, Cline was straight and to the point with his comments, “You try not to think about who is on the other side as far as personal relationships, but watching the State Cup game and then playing here, the emotions were everywhere. Holon helped build my career and get me to where I am and for that I’ll be forever grateful but now I’m at Maccabi Tel Aviv and it’s an obligation to put everything on the outside and lock-in.”
Cline looked as if he had been playing with Maccabi all season and his new team just made everything for him look that much easier. The key he said was the squad’s veteran leadership and as well as Chris Jones controlling the point like an old pro, “Chris did an unbelievable job of controlling the game and I thought he was outstanding. Whenever they had a run to creep back into the game he put a stop to it and a lot of our vets did. I’m learning from these guys that when ethereally go on a run you really need focus on the defensive possession and get a great shot on offense.”
Maccabi will play Milano this week in Euroleague action and Cline could make his competition debut in Italy but isn’t looking at that as a make it or break it moment, “I’m here to do a job and do what the coach asks of me. Whatever is asked of me I will do and wait for direction. If I’m not registered and I am cheering my team I will be the best cheerleader and best teammate that I can be and if I am on the court I’ll be the best player that I can be. That’s the mindset. I can just control what I can control and that’s what I’ll do.”
JONES BACK IN SADDLE
Chris Jones was excellent in what was his first game in what seemed to be like absolutely forever. In fact, it was his first since Maccabi fell to Hapoel Gilboa Galil on Friday January 29th when the guard played 27 minutes and scored 8 points while going 3/8 from the field with just 2 assists. Since that game, Jones hasn’t been dressed for four league wins and a State Cup semifinal victory as he waited for his turn on the side and that was a long wait until he had his turn once again. But now, back for the first time in more than two weeks, Jones didn’t show one ounce of rust and got right to work grabbing the lifeline that coach Sfairopoulos threw him. 6/6 from the field good for 15 points, 9 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in 28 minutes for Jones but it wasn’t just the stats it was what Cline described of Jones doing “an unbelievable job of controlling the game”. Sfairopoulos also praised his guard’s contribution, “I congratulated Chris Jones for the way he played as it’s not easy to return to play after not having played in some time.”
On the flip side of the coin, one player who didn’t impress whatsoever was Tyler Dorsey who played a grand total of 2:52 all in the first quarter and was ejected after receiving a pair of technicals. The former NBA player was also out of action for a couple of weeks just like Jones but instead of taking advantage of his opportunity it was as if he threw it away and didn’t even want to be there. It was unfortunate to see as Maccabi needs an all-in Dorsey as they get back to Euroleague play this week against Milano. “Tyler was suspended from the game too early and we wanted him to play and get into a rhythm,” explained Sfairopoulos. “That will have to now be done through practice.” It will be very interesting to see how many minutes Jones and Dorsey will get on Thursday night, very, very interesting.
TOUGH NIGHT FOR HOLON
Over on the Holon side of the court, Stefanos Dedas’s squad had a tough go after a very intense State Cup matchup last week. Chris Johnson played limited minutes after having to leave they game due to illness and the intensity level for the purples just wasn’t there and that was understandable. “We paid with the lack of energy and everyone saw we were fatigued, physically we didn’t recover from the last game,” explained Dedas. “One of our players Chris Johnson came up sick in the middle of the game and Maccabi had three different imports than last game plus TJ Cline so they were fresh.”
“I was very patient for a bit and then I attacked them and we played better for a bit. But I didn’t expect that Chris would be out. We didn’t have any problems with offense but our problem was our energy. Maybe there were some nerves from last week’s game and it’s not easy mentally to play such a game. Maccabi had the advantage.”
How much damage did the State Cup defeat do to Holon? That still remains to be seen, but it definitely affected them this game. My guess is that they will be just fine and will be back and ready to go in the Balkan League, Champions League and the Israeli league right after the short break.