Maccabi Tel Aviv was the better team from top to bottom. There is no arguing that. The Yellow & Blue took the game right to Hapoel Tel Aviv and were ready to roll right from the opening tip in a 90-79 win that was never even that close.
Oded Katash had his squad prepared to perfection against the Dany Franco’s team in a game that the hosts dominated the boards at both ends, ran the ball down the court at every opportunity and just simply stymied the Reds players time and and time again. Other than Jordan McRae whose contribution was significant in the first frame no other Hapoel player made an impact over the course of the 40 minutes of action.
Possession after possession Maccabi was able to do what they pleased especially in a third quarter that saw them breakout in a big way and push the lead up significantly thereby sending Hapoel spiraling into a place that Franco could not dig them out of as the final frame was plenty of garbage time galore.
Jake Cohen who has been a model of consistency and professionalism day in and day out and who made a huge difference in helping Maccabi reach the Euroleague quarterfinals with superb play down the stretch of these season answered the bell big time against Hapoel.
The Davidson product not only scored points throughout but his basketball IQ is second to none as he ended the game with not only 13 points but 5 rebounds, 5 assists and a +29 in 26 minutes of action.
“Jake has been great for us,” Katash said. “He had an exceptional game on both sides of the court. The way they guarded us allowed Jake to punish them with his intelligence as they focused on our guards. We made them turn the ball over and we controlled the rebound. That was the key and our goal. When we get to our shots we were able to hit them and now we have to look ahead to game two.”
Jarell Martin concurred with the coach, “They have been great for us, Jake and AP have stepped up for us and have been a major piece for us. We have to keep fighting and secure one more.”
Cohen knew how to make an impact and help his teammates come to within just one win away of taking the league championship which they can wrap up on Sunday night at the Drive In Arena.
But it wasn’t just Cohen. It was Alex Poythress causing all kinds off issues in the paint neutralizing Chinanu Onuaku who was a non-factor, Lorenzo Brown, Wade Baldwin and John Dibartolomeo who were able to stop the likes of J’Covan Brown (1/8 8p), Xavier Munford (9p) and Bar Timor (1/8 2p) and making sure that both Tomer Ginat and Onuaku were in foul trouble thereby limiting their ability to impact the game.
“Our transition defense and offense were the big key,” Martin said. “We limited them as they are one of the better teams in transition in the league and we did a great job on the boards with Jake and Roman Sorkin getting offensive boards for us was big time.”
With Maccabi controlling the glass with 16 offensive rebounds and 38 overall to Hapoel’s 38, that definitely limited the Reds ability as the Yellow & Blue were able to punish them one time after the next. In fact, the hosts took 7 offensive boards in the first quarter alone to set the tone along with having 16 more shots than the visitors by the end of the third quarter.
With Hapoel not being able to execute, Franco was at a loss as he looked down and out at the post game press conference in a way that he hasn’t looked like all season long. He did not sound optimistic and seemed very, very concerned that his team would not be able to pull out a win at home to send the series back to Yad Eliyahu.
“Everything that was up until this day is irrelevant,” Franco said. “This was a game that didn’t represent us. We did not play well. If we are to beat Maccabi we have to really put in our best and show what we are worth going into the game on Sunday.”
The bench boss also spoke about the players and their effort, “We didn’t play the way we expected to fight from the start of the game. Things that we suffered from in the past were issues again from the outset. We played against a good team and we are too. We need to really look at ourselves and the days leading up to the game. This was not a good game from everyone and each person has to take a good look at themselves. We have to come in and have a better game on Sunday and play the way we know that we can.”
Captain Bar Timor also spoke about the way his team came across in the fateful third quarter, “They did a good job on us and were aggressive on the pick and roll. That’s part of the game and we kind of raised our hands and our body language wasn’t good in that third quarter. We have to do a better job on Sunday. “
The days leading up to the game there was much surrounding the fact that Maccabi Tel Aviv didn’t want to hand over the 1500 ticket allocation for game one at Yad Eliyahu due to the Red fans having lit up flares which Yellow & Blue management rightly felt could be a threat to their fans and potentially cause a disaster. Eventually Maccabi gave Hapoel the tickets after the IBBA court came down with their ruling that if they did not the game would be a technical loss and that would have been the last thing the club would have wanted to occur.
The League Administration agreed to take responsibility of the event as metal detectors and head to toe searches were done for the Hapoel fans as well as their players. However, that didn’t stop dozens of flares being lit the minute the referee tossed the jump ball up to begin the game.
Maccabi was able to say, we told you so and there is yet any indication as to where a championship celebration will take place should the Yellow & Blue win on Hapoel’s home court of the Drive In Arena.
“There’s no time to be depressed,” Timor said. “I don’t have any answers as to what happened here. We have to come into the game on Sunday to stay in the game. We have two days to pick ourselves up and we have to do a better job on the rebound. I see it as 40 minutes and we have to see what we need to do better and be more focussed on both sides of the ball and then come back here for a third game.”
Katash looked at what will be the keys to winning at the Drive In and closing out the series on the road, “The big difference between the league and the Euroleague is the aggressiveness and intensity and if we do that we will be fine. The last time we played in the Drive In we lost so we need to really be focused on what we need to do to win.”
“Maccabi wants to win every game and losing in the State Cup Final was disappointing and the players understand that in order to end this year on a positive note is to end the season with a title. We have a lot of players that can score and if we stop their running game that’s our key. Our defense is what will lead us to winning the title.”