Home Cooking: Home court advantage key in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Israeli League title

Jun 14, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

At the end of the day it all comes down to home court advantage.

Game after game after game throughout a long season each and every team tries to win as many games as they can in order to put themselves in the best position to win a championship. Of course a team that finishes in first place in the regular season will ultimately have home court advantage throughout the playoffs and the privilege to host the very last game of a campaign at their arena.

Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

And that’s exactly what Maccabi Tel Aviv was able to do and what almost most definitely helped them take the league title over Hapoel Tel Aviv in a dramatic best-of-three series that saw the Yellow & Blue win 2-1 with a 94-90 victory in the decisive third game at Yad Eliyahu in front of their fans.

Game one was all Maccabi at home and game two was one way traffic for Hapoel at a hot and heavy Drive In Arena to set up a winner take all game three that was as close as could be.

But as has been seen time and time again it’s all about home court advantage and how critical that is for the last but definitely not least final 40 minutes of a campaign.

With Maccabi seemingly in cruise control in the fourth quarter, Hapoel rattled off a 17-0 run to snatch an 85-83 lead. But that was just before Wade Baldwin and Lorenzo Brown came up huge in money time with Maccabi’s final 11 points of the game as the home crowd pushed them over the last 2 minutes of the contest to clinch the series.

Lorenzo Brown – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Oded Katash’s squad had gone through a long, actually a very long season that saw many highs and lows, peaks and valleys along with ups and downs whether it was the Israeli League, Euroleague or Israel State Cup.

The last two of the three were ended on games that Maccabi’s opponents held home court advantage which made finishing the domestic league’s regular season in first place overall even that more important as they knew full well they would most probably play the 2nd or 3rd place teams, Hapoel Jerusalem or Hapoel Tel Aviv in the finals.

And that’s what happened as Maccabi downed Hapoel in the final game of the regular season thereby earning the ultimate privilege of home court advantage.

“There’s absolutely no question that home court was crucial,” Katash said following the game. “We lost both times we played at the Drive In and this was something very crucial for us. In this very good league where so many teams are competitive, we were able to finish first. If you look at the key games that we lost this season they were both on the road at Jerusalem in the State Cup final and Monaco in game five of the quarterfinal series. At the end of the day, that is what made the difference. We wanted to win the title in game two at the Drive In but what happened there did occur in a tough loss, but I’m happy that it happened here in front of our fans who deserve it the most.”

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Looking back at what the bench boss said following the series clincher in Monaco made it crystal clear that home court was critical and there is no question that the club will strive for that next season in continental competition as well.

Lorenzo Brown who immediately after the loss in Monaco said that home court would be a goal next season in the Euroleague also reflected on what it meant to have against the reds, “For sure, game 2 we weren’t prepared, we weren’t prepared enough for game two but we got right. We came in here and we had our team discussion like coach always does and we made it out.”

Another player who also saw that Maccabi needed to have that extra push of the home supporters was Jake Cohen who had also talked about that issue back after the Monaco matchup, “It was huge. With those fans who have been a part of our season all year whether it was the Israeli or the Euroleague, it was huge to have them behind us tonight.”

“It was very difficult to play here. The crowd, the atmosphere that the teams bring is unbelievable. We came into Hapoel Tel Aviv and lost by 40. Then we came out the way we did today. We lost by 40 points in a close out game and the next day we were in the lockerroom and it was tough. No one spoke, it was silent, but we came in locked in today ready to get a championship. It was amazing!”, Baldwin concluded.

Tomer Ginat – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

On the other side, Tomer Ginat who had made the decision to return to Hapoel form Paris after two seasons abroad and spurned the bigger money from Maccabi to join the yellow-and-blue over the summer was absolutely devastated after the loss.

“The home court is huge,” the forward began. “We were in this game all the way, but they made one or two more plays at the end of the game and we missed out. I think Hapoel Tel Aviv this season was able to do something special and to be in the position to win on the last possession of a championship is something really great, but it’s too bad we were there but just missed out. It’s painful.”

Head coach Danny Franco was also disappointed with the outcome and commented on how each and every game in the league matters, “In the EuroCup we finished in 3rd place and not second due to point differential where we could have hosted another game. It’s one or two games that could have put us in the position to have home court which makes a huge difference.”

While the home court advantage eventually decided the series, that 17-0 run by the Reds certainly pumped their fans up while silencing the Maccabi faithful. But the “Killer B’s” along with the PA Announcer Shai Sidi who used his mic skills to perfection along with the fans were able to overcome the pretty large hiccup.

Wade Baldwin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“The game got into switching defense,” Baldwin explained of the rough patch. “They had Chinanu Onuaku guarding me and Lorenzo Brown, the two best guards in Euroleague. We kept missing but we made some stops, I hit that shot and we hit our free throws.”

As for taking the free throws, Baldwin had reached that moment in crunch time having gone an abysmal 3/8 from the charity stripe, but went four for four down the stretch as he explained the sequence, “Take a deep breath, say it’s for the championship and shoot the shot, that is all that was on my mind. The team has had confidence in me and I had confidence in myself and that’s what I do.”

“I don’t think I can say they words that were going through my head after their run,” Cohen exclaimed. “It was not fun. But then you have someone like Wade Baldwin who makes a big shot and puts the team on his back and that MVP was well deserved for what he did in those last two minutes.”

Colson couldn’t believe that Hapoel had scored 17 unanswered and was left speechless when told, “I didn’t know it was 17-0! They are a talented team and we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We stuck with the plan. We made the right decisions at the end and it came through.”

Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The head coach likened the lead that disappeared to that of a game that he loves to play and does so on a regular basis, “I like snooker and the last frame is always the hardest to win. That is what I felt like in the last seven minutes of the game. I knew we needed a basket to get there and it was so difficult. We started to see to lead evaporate and I called a time out and I said what I had said at the start of the season which is that we had to show our character. That is what we did.”

Katash is also aware that the day of easy championships and titles for Maccabi is over as it has been across the continent, “The days of Maccabi winning easily are over, you can see what is happening around Europe. I told the guys before the playoffs began that it was going to be tough, but we showed character and the way the players came in to the last practice said it all. I really was lucky to be able to coach this team.”

Knowing how tough it was to win this season, Cohen had some high praise for this specific title, “We had a lot of ups and downs this year for me personally for other guys, the coach, all this balagan around it. For a lot of these guys it’s their first championship, for me it’s my fourth, but this one is the sweetest. The character of people at Maccabi is amazing so to be able to finish the season with a championship, it’s perfect.”

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