Hapoel’s heart and soul downs stuck in the mud Maccabi in Tel Aviv Derby

Dec 27, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Hapoel Tel Aviv brought the heart, they brought the soul and they brought the confidence right at Maccabi to take the Tel Aviv Derby 83-82 in what was an emotionally charged game at Yad Eliyahu. The Reds fans sang, cheered and whooped it up for what seemed to be over an hour after the game to the delight of their players and staff in what was a well deserved Derby victory.

The Reds went right after a broken Yellow & Blue from the get go, a Maccabi team that can’t stop losing in Euroleague play and made sure to take the game right to the hosts. Whether it was James Young, J’Covan Brown, Idan Zalmanson or Bar Timor, Danny Franco’s team out hustled and out played Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad play after play after play.

There’s no question that Maccabi has more talent and a roster littered with former NBA players and European stars, but no matter, Hapoel took the game right to Maccabi in a masterful performance and one for the ages.

JP Tokoto – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Hapoel forced Maccabi to commit 21 turnovers, they stole the ball 8 times and forced the Yellow & Blue to shoot an abysmal 6/26 from beyond the arc by playing suffocating defense every single possession. Add to the fact that the Reds came back from the dead late in the third quarter from a 12 point deficit to cut it to 7 points by the end of the frame, Franco and his staff along with the players did a masterful job in taking the win.

“We prepared very, very carefully for this game,” Franco said. “I thought the players would have issues with some of the defensive system that we put in specifically for the game, but that was not the case. We have some very crucial games coming up and while this was a nice win over Maccabi we have to be realistic as well.”

Idan Zalmanson & James Young- Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Our goal was to begin the game well and keep ourselves close to Maccabi,” Hapoel Tel Aviv center Idan Zalmanson said. “When they went up by 12 points in the third quarter we cleaned up some of the small issues and we came up big the final frame as we knew that the win would also give us a spot in the Israel State Cup quarterfinals.”

James Young, the former Boston Celtics first round draft choice did as he pleased, scoring 26 points on 9/18 shooting including the biggest shot of them all, a fadeaway on the baseline over Oz Blazyer with under a minute to go to put Danny Franco’s team ahead for good.

“He has his up and downs,” Franco said of James. “But he has his moments like he did today where he can bring his best.”

James Young – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The MVP looked at the victory as more of a team win, where they collective was more powerful than the one, “This was a huge team win, we played well and we deserved to take this victory. I know how important this is for the club and we worked our butts off this week.”

Another crucial piece of the team was no doubt J’Covan Brown who had been in many a big game before with Hapoel Jerusalem. If anyone knows what it means to come out and lay it all on the line, it’s Brown.

J’Covan Brown – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“He’s like the Mashina Song, ‘Si Haregesh’ (Peak of Emotions), he’s an emotional player,” Franco said about his guard. “I wasn’t that familiar with him before his joined the club, but I am happy that he is part of this team.”

While Hapoel will take this win and hopefully build off of it, Maccabi is in absolute shambles. From the players to the coaching staff as management has no solution in sight.

“We’re stuck in the mud,” forward Jake Cohen described the club’s precarious situation after falling to Hapoel. “We can be down because we lost games or we can stay positive. It would be a mistake to look back at our past defeats as we have to get better and win games. We have that mentality to improve and get better and hopefully things will change and if not we can feel bad about ourselves at the end of end of the season.”

Not only did the Yellow & Blue lose the Derby, a no-no in Maccabi land, they have also fallen in 7 straight Euroleague games with no direction or game plan or thought of getting out of the rut in sight. Once again Maccabi did everything in their power wrong down the stretch allowing the Reds to come back from a 12 –point deficit late in the third quarter to notch the thrilling win on enemy soil.

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“It’s very disappointing loss,” Cohen continued. “I know how much this game means to our fans and organization and we let them down and we let ourselves down. For the most part we are practicing really well and focused but there is an issue on game night when we have to perform.

“We have a lot of talent on this roster. I’ve lost derbies and a lot of games and I have won a lot of championships. So things can get better and turn around. It’s a painful loss and we have to live to fight another day.”

Maccabi’s head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos was at a loss for words as to what the team can do to get out of the “mud”, “We try to do our best, me and the players and colleagues to get us out of this situation. I don’t want to look at excuses but we need to try to do our best to all get out of this situation. For sure we don’t play good, we don’t win games and the pressure is big. We don’t score big baskets and turn the ball over 21 times. This shows how much stress and pressure there is to win the games.”

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

However, management led by general manager Nikola Vujcic has done nothing to help matters as Maccabi just seems to be a rudderless boat stuck at sea. While Sfairopoulos said that market for players is very tough because the NBA is handing out NBA 10 day contracts to G-League players like nothing, perhaps the Yellow & Blue need to begin looking at changes they can make in house, as in addition by subtraction.

If players are such a hot commodity right now, Maccabi certainly have some that can be offered up and perhaps make a return on them as well beginning with James Nunnally. The swingman has been super atrocious for weeks now and added more insult to injury by going an abysmal 1/6 with 5 turnovers to sport a -5 efficiency rating in over 23 painful minutes of game time.

“James is a very good scorer and I trust him,” Sfairopoulos said when asked why Nunnally was selected to play in this specific game. “He’s a player that can show up in the tough moments and is a player that can give a lot in situations to the team. He was not on a good shooting day but that is life, sometimes you miss and sometimes you score.”

James Nunnally – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While Nunnally may score, he also plays zero defense and turnovers the ball close to 2 times per game while showing absolutely no heart. It’s also clear that Scottie Wilbekin can’t play with Nunnally on the court because they both need the ball in their hands. In fact, it’s very rate that the two pass the ball to one another.

Why was Derrick Williams not dressed? Sfairopoulos said that he wanted to have two centers who have been playing well of late available in Jalen Reynolds and Ante Zizic. However, Cohen or Sorkin could have played as the second center against Idan Zalmanson and Josh Owens while Williams who finally began to look like his old self at Zenit could have been inserted into the roster and provide some offensive punch.

Where was Kam Taylor who started the last Euroleague game but doesn’t dress in a matchup where as a defensive specialist (because there is no offense to speak of) was needed to shut down the liked of Young ad Brown?

The issues remain the same over the past couple of months but yet management does nothing and keeps rolling out the same players time and time again.

Change the coach of you can’t fire all of the players? No problem, Oded Katash is available, however, it seems Maccabi isn’t sold on him to lead the Yellow & Blue.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Maccabi needs to shake things up and fast or else the fans who have been loyal to a fault up until now will begin to turn and that could end up getting ugly. I’m not sure how many of them felt good watching Hapoel celebrate on their home court.

But for today, it’s the Reds moment in the sun, but Franco warns that these wins can be counter-productive going forward and wants to keep going up slowly but surely and not the other way.

“A win like this can do good but it can also do very bad as well. The role of the coach is to find a way to get his players to play at a level to win games. I have to keep the players levelheaded. Nothing has changed even though we won this game as we have key games coming up including the State Cup.”

Now wouldn’t it be something if the Reds and Yellow & Blue meet up in the quarterfinals at the Drive In in a one game knockout matchup?

We will find out later this week.

Idan Zalmanson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

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