Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa are teams in deep, deep trouble as they sit near the bottom of the standings with relegation staring them right in the eyes as two teams will go down to the Leumit League at the end of this season. I had the chance to see both of these teams in action on the same night and both had their issues, serious ones that will need to be corrected before it’s too late, which hopefully is not yet the case.
The Reds who fell to Bnei Herzliya will be without JP Tokoto for the next 6-8 weeks after fracturing his left ankle which leaves a major hole in coach Ioannis Kastritis’s lineup. Tokoto was a reliable player on defense and was a scorer on offense which means that Hapoel will have to not only find a way to keep the opponent’s scoreline down but also find points from other players. Giving up 58 points in the first half is definitely not going to cut it and 98 for the game is a mega problem. It looked like the Reds had turned the corner with a brilliant win over Hapoel Eilat just a week ago. But a Derby defeat to Maccabi, the loss of JP and now a disastrous game at home against Bnei Herzliya, one of the teams they are battling to move up the table opens up a lot of questions as to how they will be able to maneuver the latest challenge in front of them. “Work, work, work and keep supporting everybody and work with management and those supporting the team who work the whole day, 24 hours for the best result and find the solutions to bring us the results we want,” was what Katsritis said to me when I asked how he will try to get his team out of the situation that they are in. Yes, there’s a lot of work ahead and their next game is Monday night at Hapoel Haifa, yet another must win juts like the Herzliya game was.
Over at Maccabi Haifa they were demolished, decimated and destroyed against Maccabi Tel Aviv in a game that a media personality called the first half (53-26 for MTA) the worst that he had ever seen in his life, and there are been some pretty bad halves of hoops. The Greens have made numerous roster moves and nothing seems to click. I do think that Daniel Seaone is a good coach and can get the best out of players, but the best just may not be good enough. Haifa has been competitive at times, but those games have been few and far between. The most recent sign of life was at Hapoel Gilboa Galil as they took down the team that then beat Maccabi Tel Aviv which should mean that Haifa would beat the Yellow & Blue. Well, it doesn’t exactly work that way. Haifa showed very little of anything against Maccabi as they just swamped them over the first twenty minutes while the second half saw youngsters galore take to the court including Dori Sahar who out on a show. We’ll get to Dori in a minute, but back to Haifa. What can Seoane do to get his players out of this rut? “Keeping them motivated and keep learning and improve. It’s a young team that has a lot to learn, we played three big games and lost two, against Jerusalem and Maccabi, but we are doing better if we self analyze. I want to see them compete against the regular teams. We will have a chance to balance the situation and it is on us to do so. I hope to have all of the injured players back and that’s clearly a weakness now. We don’t have a point guard now which is a big issue as well.” Lots of issues to work on for both Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, the rest of the season will be interesting no doubt.
Dori Sahar was just a ball of fun to watch for Maccabi Tel Aviv. The just turned 20-year old put in his best performance for the Yellow & Blue with 11 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes of play in the win over Maccabi Haifa. In addition to Sahar, Eidan Alber and Yonatan Attias each played 14 minutes in a game that allowed coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos the opportunity to play some of his young guys and give them a chance to get some quality time on the court during an actual game and not at practice. “The best thing was that I was able to give the three young guys a lot of time to play and have them ready to be able to help the team as well,” said the bench boss after the game. Sahar gave his thoughts about having the opportunity to play, “I dreamed as a child to be in these situations on the court as I used to sit in the stands on Thursday nights for Euroleague games. The team gives me all of the tools for me to succeed. I come every day to work hard. I come to compete.” He also spoke about his thoughts on Deni Avdija in the NBA and what he took from working with him over the past number of seasons, “Deni is a good friend and I am very proud of him. He is where he is today because of his hard work. He was the first in practice and the last one out, there isn’t any exception to hard work. He obviously has talent, but it’s all in the hard work that he has put in.”
Coty Clarke was just amazing to watch for Bnei Herzliya. The swingman was superb against Hapoel Tel Aviv and set the stage for the victory with a 22 point first half which included a nice triple as the game headed into the halftime break. Clarke began his career in Israel with Hapoel Galil Elyon back in 2014 and had since played in the G-League, Puerto Rico and Russia amongst other places before landing back in the Holy Land. In addition to his game high 25 points he also dished out 9 helpers, but I have to take you back to that 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter, Clarke had the ball with about 7 seconds left and was open from deep. He had the chance to pass the ball but deked out his defender and then just stood all by himself for a couple of more seconds and let it rip as time expired. It was beautiful and here is how Clarke described it himself, “When I looked at the clock and I saw it, my first initial thought was to pass but when I double faked and the guy left (who was guarding me) I was like, why not. I just took advantage of what I was given. Credit to my teammates.”
Kudos to Nes Ziona for a great FIBA Europe Cup campaign as they punched their ticket to the Round of 16. But now back in Israel, coach Brad Greenberg knew full well that his team’s most important mission was to win games in league play and move up the standings. First up was a tough date at Hapoel Holon who also advanced to the Playoff Round of the Champions League, their respective European hoops competition. Tough yes, impossible? Not fro this team. An amazing effort from the entire squad led Nes Ziona to the tight 92-90 victory which saw Israelis Tal Dunne lead the way along with another young Israeli Or Cornelius. The 23-year old’s father, Greg played in Israel and featured for a number of teams including Maccabi Tel Aviv but starred at Ramat Gan. Cornelius had the best game in his young career with 11 points in 18 minutes and looks like a chip off the old block.