It’s all Smoke & Mirrors for both Maccabi and Hapoel after Winner Cup Tel Aviv Derby Final as Reds close gap

Oct 23, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

The postgame of the Winner Cup Tel Aviv Derby Final between Maccabi and Hapoel was all a game of smoke and mirrors from both sides. And I’m not talking about the smoke from the flares that the Yellow & Blue fans lit up as the contest began.

Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

It was certainly a battle, more than one would have thought it would be considering that the Reds were without star guard J’Covan Brown. But Danny Franco’s squad still made quite the game out of it as Maccabi had the upper hand at the end finding a way to take the 88-84 win in overtime.

Hapoel got off to a brutal start, going down by double-digits just minutes after tip-off, thanks to dominant play in the paint by Josh Nebo, then Roman Sorkin and finally MVP Alex Poythress who absolutely demolished the inside. However, Franco’s crew were able to pull it together to knot the game up and even have a chance to potentially win it but Bar Timor couldn’t hit the backend of his 2 free throws and then on the final possession pass the ball to JP Tokoto who air-balled the last shot of regulation from deep.

JP Tokoto and Bar Timor – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

After that Lorenzo Brown and Alex Poythress took control of the club’s second life and put away the victory in overtime.

Maccabi hoisted the trophy into the air as captain John Dibartolomeo has done numerous times over the past few seasons together with former captain Guy Pnini who returned to the Yellow & Blue after five years at Hapoel Holon to enjoy what will probably be his final year in professional top league basketball.

Guy Pnini and John Dibartolomeo – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

The game was truly a tough game and not one that was going to be easy to call by the referees, however, the zebras made it feel at times that the court was slanted in one direction only especially when you look at the statistics.

Fouls, 30 for Maccabi and 16 for Hapoel. Free throws, 41 for the Reds and 12 for the Yellow & Blue.

Those numbers couldn’t be any more disproportionate.

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

In fact, Scottie Wilbekin, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s former star guard who departed for Fenerbahce this summer was in attendance and was probably shaking his head as to the referees calls after he had been quite outspoken about them in interviews juts a couple of weeks ago when the two sides met in Istanbul.

When asked about the way the game was officiated, Pnini took the high road and didn’t make any waves with his comments, “It wasn’t an easy game to referee. I don’t have any complaints at them, but as a team we needed to finish off the game. The referees, they were fine.”

Oded Katash even spoke about the wide margin between free throws but also took some of the blame on himself for his team tiring as the second half wore on which was to be expected after a pair of tough Euroleague games the week before.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I have to look back at the game and it was a bit weird to have a gap of 30 free throws between the teams, there were a lot of stats that are out of whack. It wasn’t an easy game to referee. The fourth quarter was not very good for us and the players were tired and falling off of their feet. I have to expand the rotation and use Jake Cohen and Iftach Ziv more than I did.”

Stas don’t lie. However, the Yellow & Blue need to take a very close look at what Hapoel has been doing as a franchise to close the gap between the two clubs and that is certainly a factor as well.

On the Reds side, Hapoel tried to brush off the loss as everything is fine, if we would have won then great but no big deal that we lost, we will take the lessons learned and apply them going forward.

That’s the right attitude without a doubt, but let’s be honest, Hapoel would have been thrilled beyond belief had they vanquished their archrival, taken their first title in 30 years and would have done all of that without arguably their best player in J’Covan Brown.

Their fans would have been over the moon watching their heroes hoist the cup into the air. But it was not to be.

Danny Franco – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“It’s a preseason title you can win or lose, but there were things that we can take with us from here,” Reds coach Danny Franco said. “This was the first time that J’Covan Brown didn’t play and it was surprising as we found out only a couple of days before that he wouldn’t be able to. If we don’t take things to heart we can easily lose our next game. It was a game of battle, heart and sweat and that was good to see the character that we took to the floor.”

Bar Timor towed the party line as well and tried to take the positives out of the defeat, “I told the guys that it’s too bad we lost, but we can take some lessons from this game, how to start off better, focus more and take the small things. Learn from the game and move on.”

Bar Timor – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I don’t think that this would have been a peak and the tournament ended now and it’s great to win but it’s not terrible to lose. So I don’t think that this would have been a peak for us at all. We have a couple of games coming up and we will be ready for them.”

Bottom line is the Hapoel is closing the gap to Maccabi and they are a force to reckoned with. The Yellow & Blue may still have the tradition, trophies and all of that which is important to the club but it’s clear that the Reds are building something in north Tel Aviv that will be able to take on all comers. They won plenty of Derbies last season with one being the last straw in Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s time as head coach. Yes, Maccabi won the playoff series but one needed not be blind to see that Hapoel is getting closer and closer to Maccabi.

Guy Pnini – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

But for now the club chaired by Shimon Mizrachi still has that upper hand and he wanted to make sure his players were well aware of the importance of a Derby explained Guy Pnini.

“Shimon explained to the new players about the importance of the game for the club and fans. But we as players had to go onto the floor and do the right things. For me it was great to wear the yellow-and-blue again especially in a Derby and it brought back some great memories.”

Maccabi needs to be very careful because Hapoel is getting very close to creating their own unforgettable memories as well.

Alex Poythress – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

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