Hapoel Tel Aviv absolutely demolished Hapoel Jerusalem in the Capital City as the game was never, ever close and saw Danny Franco’s squad just obliterate what looked like a broken home team in a 86-55 blowout win in game one of their best-of-3 semifinal series that now puts them just 40 minutes away from the championship series.
For those who had been keeping tabs on the recent results, this one shouldn’t have come as a surprise as the visitors who had been playing top level hoops since the second half of game two in their quarterfinal series with Nes Ziona just continued their high octane basketball.
Whether it was J’Covan Brown who came back to haunt one of his former clubs, Xavier Munford who is arguably one of the best players to ply his trade in the Holy Land this season or Jordan McRae who could be the most complete player that is part of Franco’s ammunition, Tel Aviv just annihilated Jerusalem right from the get go.
“We have a good team,” Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Danny Franco said after the contest. “The score differential does not reflect the difference between the two teams. It does show that we did good work in this game, but in a series each team has the ability to respond. Jerusalem have already beaten us at home this year, which everyone remembers. Not one point from our advantage tonight will help us in the next game, unfortunately. We need to do everything again from the start and this game is done with.”
McRae took the bull by the horns and scored early and often as he finished the game with 20 points while Levi Randolph and Khadeen Carrington couldn’t get out of first gear with a combined 3 measly points in 44 minutes to the dismay of the Jerusalem faithful.
“We just played incredibly hard,” McRae, the player of the game, said. “We know what this team is capable of, everybody knows, they’ve been killing it all year. So for us to come out and just play as hard as we did, I’m proud of us.
“As long as we’re playing hard, we’re going to make some shots, we’re going to miss some shorts, that’s all a part of the game. Tonight I happened to make some shots, my teammates put me in the rights spots and we came out of it with a good win.”
Of McRae, Franco said: “I’ll say that he had a good game and when Jordan is good he contributes to many aspects on the court, with assists, ability to rebound, beyond points, also defensively. I can speak about how fantastic his game was, but I’m sure that he will be happy – and he knows that I’ll also happy – if we win the series, because we haven’t done anything yet.”
While Jerusalem head coach Aleksandar Dzikic received the Coach of the Season award and center Zach Hankins was tabbed as the 2022/23 League MVP just prior to tip-off, it was all downhill after that.
“Credit to Hapoel Tel Aviv – they kicked our asses,” Hapoel Jerusalem coach Aleksandar Džikić said after the game.
Hapoel Jerusalem captain, Itay Segev, expressed the same sentiments: “No excuses. This is the first time that we were broken all season, the time was so great.”
“Watch it, admit it, try to learn from it and go out and try to win the next game. We have several days now to think about what went wrong and why,” Džikić said of putting the game behind them and focusing on the next game.
They now have just 40 minutes to save their season that included a State Cup victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv and a trip to the Basketball Champions League Final Four in Malaga where the squad advanced to the title game after a heroic win over Tenerife but ultimately fell to Bonn for the championship.
Since then, Jerusalem has not looked anywhere near the same team. Dzikic and Carrington both said that their game four win over Bnei Herzliya to advance to the semifinals was not going to be enough and they have been thus far proven right.
Should Jerusalem be able to win at the Drive In Arena on Saturday night which they had done back in the State Cup competition, a decisive game three will be played back in the Holy City on Monday night. But Franco and his charges would much prefer to finish the series off at home then to have to head back to Jerusalem in a one game winner take all clash.
“We have a game on Saturday which will start at 0-0,” Franco noted. “Of course, we don’t want to return here [for a game 3], Jerusalem is capable of causing that to happen.”
The season is all on the line right now and it’s all for one and one for all. It’s about focus and it’s about sacrifice in order to take home the top prize. Jerusalem right now are on the ropes and Hapoel Tel Aviv want to finish the job off.
“It’s playoff time, everyone is in focus, the focus is hard,” McRae said. “As good as this win was, we haven’t done anything yet. It was a great win, we’ll celebrate it for 5-10 minutes, and then we’ll prepare for the next game.”