Maccabi Tel Aviv did what they needed to do in game one of the Israel Basketball League finals at Yad Eliyahu. Win.
The Yellow & Blue needed to take care of business at home before heading up north to the Galilee for the second game at Gan Ner. There was no way that Ioannis Sfairopoulos wanted to go on the road for game two in a must win situation and also in one of the toughest arenas in the country. No thanks. Let’s go up Route 6 and comeback home with a victory and a championship. That’s what was in the minds of Maccabi all week long since disposing of Hapoel Eilat.
After a lengthy break, the Yellow & Blue came out strong and focused with an emphasis on playing airtight defense. This wasn’t a shock to Chris Jones who felt that despite the time off Maccabi would be fresh and able to neutralize the likes of Kerry Blackshear and Iftach Ziv as they were limited to very minimal damage on the court.
“I wouldn’t say surprised but it helped us get going. We won the last series 2-0, we were off for little more than we expected and we worked over that time and bettered ourselves,” Jones said.
Defensively, Maccabi arguably played their best game all season long as they swarmed the opposition every chance they had to take away any advantage, “This was one of our best defensive games, we’ve had a few but this was one of them,” Jones said.
The Yellow & Blue were able to do as they pleased out of the gate and did so each and every quarter while limiting Avishay Gordon’s squad to just 15 points in the first frame and 14 points in the third period. Maccabi was able to strike Gilboa quickly and hard creating the separation necessary to stay in the lead and secure the precious victory. Add to the rebounding advantage of 38-29 plus 16-7 on the offensive boards and you’ve got a recipe to ensure a win.
“It’s the finals and we are super motivated,” Maccabi big man Ante Zizic began. “We controlled the game from the first minute and we controlled the offensive and defensive rebounds. We tried to be aggressive and they have talented players but when you prepare you can defend pretty well.”
The other big factor was of course Maccabi’s leader Scottie Wilbekin who scored 13 of his 24 points in the final frame, “We played well as a team and we focused on our defense limiting transition and offensive rebounds. I think we did a good job with our game plan.”
Jehyve Floyd, who led Gilboa with 17 points which included a couple of highlight reel dunks knew exactly what plagued his team from the get go, “We didn’t come out aggressive in the first quarter and that’s on me. They are a good team and they make you pay. We have to be better.”
“We came up short in aggressiveness and offensive rebounds,” Gordon said following the game. “We will work on this and we aren’t going to wave the white flag. We worked hard all season for this.”
Part of the visiting team’s shortcomings could have been the quick turnaround as well as the totally different style of play between Hapoel Holon, the team that Iftach Ziv just disposed of in two games and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I think there was a huge difference playing against Holon and Maccabi,” said Ziv. “Holon was much more than just basketball and we had to deal with a lot of extracurricular activity on and off of the court. Today, Maccabi was aggressive with more class. I have to look at myself and play better, but we can win two more games. We had chances to score inside and we did a good job with that. We will make adjustments.”
In addition to the adjustments, Gilboa will have to put aside any issues of fatigue which could have possibly played a factor in the defeat although they were able to look into the whites of Maccabi’s eyes.
“We aren’t going to use that (fatigue) as an excuse. We have two more games,” Floyd exclaimed.
Ziv agreed with that sentiment, “When you get to the court you don’t have fatigue, with a great crowd you lay it all out there on the line.”
In a short series, every single minute counts and can also have a carryover affect to the next game. In Gilboa’s case, the Galilee team will need to make their adjustments quickly in order to make sure that they can travel back down to Tel Aviv for a game three. Maccabi knows full well that their opponent will make those adjustments and with the home crowd support will be a tough out in two games. But, that’s the goal. Finish the series off, take the title and head directly to Ben Gurion airport instead of Yad Eliyahu.
“We played really good and we have to come onto next game focused 100% from the beginning. That’s the only way to beat them,” Zizic explained.
Chris Jones, is also aware that Maccabi has to be raring to go while making sure that handle the ball well after only committing 6 turnovers in game one, “We know it will be tough on the road, if we can get the same outcome, we will take it whether we win by one or by five. We did a great job taking care of the ball today and if we do the same thing on Wednesday we will ok.”