Hapoel Eilat downed Maccabi Tel Aviv 91-85 at the Red Sea city as the hosts played superb ball to drop an uninspired Yellow & Blue over the 40 minutes of play. Ariel Beit Halachmi’s squad took the game right to the defending league champs with a 52 point first half as his short seven man rotation featured six in double dights as they notched the win that was never in doubt.
Casey Prather and Jonathan Skoldjebrand paced Eilat to a 52-40 lead after twenty minutes, but Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team tried to mount a comeback and pulled to within 84-80 late in the game. However, Joe Ragland scored a layup while Markel Brown and Prather hit their free throws to notch the well deserved win.
Prather led the way for Eilat with 23 points, Joe Ragland added 15 points and 13 assists, Josh Nebo also checked in with 15 point and 11 rebound double-double while Markel Brown scored 14 points in the win. Ante Zizic scored 20 points and grabbed 11 boards, Tyler Dorsey added 20 points and Oz Blayzer scored 10 points in the loss.
“We didn’t play good defense and allowed our opponent to play their game, their rhythm,” explained Sfairopoulos. “They take advantage of our turnovers and scored on fast breaks easy points. We need to be mentally ready to fight from the beginning because as you saw in the first half we were not ready to fight.”
MACCABI LACKS FIGHT
Gotta give credit where credit is due as Ariel Beit Halachmi had his troops ready to go against Maccabi and basically played them out of the building down south. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad was absolutely nowheres to be found for the majority of the game as they lacked energy, they lacked desire and they lacked mental fortitude as they looked far from ready to play. Any time you go into a game playing the way Maccabi played there is more than a good chance you are going to lose. They looked unprepared and as if they just didn’t want it. That’s not to say that some players didn’t play well and there were, but as a collective they just looked like they had been disturbed from their time on the Eilat beaches.
Eilat under Beit Halachmi has been super all season long with four high quality players in Casey Prather, Joe Ragland, Markel Brown and rookie Josh Nebo. Add to that mix Ben Carter and wily veteran Jonathan Skoldjebrand and you have some pretty solid players. They wanted to win and win badly and that is what they did. Earlier in the season they could have stolen the victory against Maccabi at Yad Eliyahu but just came up short, however, this time there was no way they were going to find themselves on the short end of the stick despite a short rotation with injuries to Zuf Ben Moshe and Joaquin Szuchman.
Maccabi who came in after a massively disappointing loss in Euroleague play to Bayern Munich in Germany that pretty much ended their continental campaign just didn’t want to play. It was as simple as that. The issue is that they still have 10 Euroleague games to go with two home clashes this week against CSKA and Valencia and are still mathematically in the race. The chances to qualify for the postseason is between zero to none but they still have to fight and battle or else they will get blown out of the building badly.
With a 10-14 record it looks like the 8th place team may need 19 (!) wins to clinch a playoff spot due to so much congestion around places 4-11 which are separated buy a measly 3 wins. That’s crazy when you look at it. Even Maccabi going 8-2 over the last ten games wouldn’t guarantee anything. But the way they have played wouldn’t lead anyone to believe that they would even be able to go 5-5 let alone 8-2.
Look at a team like ASVEL who are 12-14. The French club has won 7 games in a row and look fabulous as they just swept the season series from first place Barcelona. Tony Parker’s club is fighting every single game and are winning one game after the next as they leapfrogged Maccabi in the standings. In fact, the Yellow & Blue have’t won more than 2 games in a row all season long and don’t look like they are going to anytime soon.
There seems to be negative energy going around Maccabi and 3 Euroleague losses in a row may do that. The excuses that have been used all season long from training camp beginning late, injured players not being able to play, players getting used to each other on the court, players still trying to get used to the style of play are all over now. There are no more excuses, just facts and here they are from the game against Eilat:
Elijah Bryant: 3/14 from the field
TJ Cline: 4 shots in 13:38 minutes after not being dressed against Bayern
Chris Jones: just 3 shots in 21:07
John Dibartolomeo: 0 points, 0/6, -9 efficiency rating in 18:53
Dragan Bender: 3 shots in 14:03
Dori Sahar: 0 minutes
Those are just not very good stats at all. But the one that stands out the most is that Dori Sahar didn’t see a second of play and that Eidan Alber wasn’t even with the team. Perhaps the youngsters would have put up a fight, a fight that Sfairopoulos said that the team wasn’t ready for in the first half.
It’s true that Maccabi has played very well of last in league play, blowing out their competition by well over 20 points after falling to Hapoel Gilboa Galil in late January. You’re allowed to lose, no question, but it’s the way you lose which is very telling. With two Euroleague games this week things could get ugly very quickly. With fans ready to descend upon Yad Eliyahu for these games for the first time in almost a year it would be a pity if the Yellow & Blue don’t come to battle.
EILAT’S A TOP TEAM
Hapoel Eilat has been one of the best teams in league play all season long. There have been a hiccup here and there with a loss a few weeks ago to Hapoel Eilat, but those have been few and far between. With an 11-5 record Ariel Beit Halachmi has shown that he is once again a true maestro on the sidelines the way he was able to get the most out of his teams up at Hapoel Gilboa Galil. Casey Prather is just an incredible talent who is playing back at the level basketball aficionados know and love (how about that amazing triple from way downtown), Joe Ragland is an elite guard, Markel Brown is a master of the game and Josh Nebo who as a rookie is a wanted man by Euroleague teams already. Add the mix a good group of Israelis and Eilat is a team to be reckoned with. The last time Maccabi Tel Aviv lost a playoff series it was against Hapoel Eilat, plus Ioannis Sfairopoulos has yet to win at the Red Sea city. Obviously the teams are totally different but it’s still a fun fact nonetheless.
CASSPI IS BACK
Omri Casspi made his return to the court in what was a huge bright spot for Maccabi after battling a stomach illness for over a month that kept him off the floor. Having the former NBA veteran back is a huge plus for the team that can use his veteran leadership during tough times. So his return is very welcome for the faithful as he will try to show that he can still be a force and help the team out. “I feel better and I had a crazy month and a half with this issue. I am happy that I returned to play and I hope that we will be able to play better basketball going forward and win these typos of games. We’ve had a lot of bad luck this season and have lost a lot of games that we could have won but lost at the end”
With two Euroleague games this week Casspi’s ability to play a role for the team will be important and he’s well aware as to how crucial having the fans back at Yad Eliyahu will be for the club’s success. “We have two game this week and we will prepare for each one at a time and see what will be at the end. It was great to play in front of fans and I am excited for Tuesday because with our fans at home we can beat any team.”