With the Israel basketball playoffs off and running, Hapoel Jerusalem will look to take a 2-1 series lead when they tip-off Friday afternoon (3pm) at home against Hapoel Gilboa Galil while Hapoel Tel Aviv stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv in game 3 to stay alive in their respective tilt and will try to even it up at 2-2 on Sunday in what could be an epic matchup at the Drive In Arena.
Hapoel Jerusalem may have fallen in game one at the Arena in the capital city but came back strong to demolish Gilboa 96-61 in the second game of their best of five series that was held up in Gan Ner earlier on the week as they will now attempt to take a stranglehold on Friday afternoon back at home.
Guy Kaplan’s team may be without star guard London Perrantes after suffering what looked to be a serious leg injury while they have already been without the services of Tyus Battle, giving the reds a huge competitive advantage with their much deeper roster. Yotam Halperin’s squad came out flying from the jump ball in game two with stifling defense and fluid offense to snatch a quick 32-12 advantage after the first quarter as they rolled to the dominant win that featured five players in double digits with Adam Ariel, Jalen Adams, John Egbunu, Willy Workman and Retin Obasohan leading the way. There’s no question that the 88-85 loss in game one got Jerusalem’s attention very quickly and set off warning lights that if the regular season champion wanted to go deep into the playoffs they would need to give over 100% focus, intensity and aggressiveness.
“It’s clear that we came into the game as we should,” Jerusalem coach Yotam Halperin said. “We were dominant from the get go and that gave us the push to keep going. We didn’t do anything really different ahead of the game after last week’s loss, but players who want to be at the top of their game have to come into each contest at the top of their mental capacity. We had a letdown in the first game in every parameter and in game two we regained our confidence. We finished in first place overall in order to have home court advantage and we all took responsibility to make sure we had a good game. Best of 5 series have a lot of character and a lot of swings which is the beauty of a series.”
“Every game has its own life and while we won in Jerusalem they defeated us here,” Gilboa coach Guy Kaplan said. “We had to keep to the game plan and try to do the best we can. Before the series started we knew that we had depth issues and it was no secret but we have to find a way to compete at our as it’s clear that on paper Jerusalem is superior.” John Egbunu also reflected on the win, “Last game was a disappointing loss for us and it’s a long series. We came out aggressive and we always want to protect home court. Last game we didn’t do that and we understood that and we didn’t want that to happen again.”
Over in Tel Aviv in the quarterfinal Derby series, Hapoel demolished Maccabi 93-75 to stave off elimination in game three to stay alive to the delight of the fans. The victory gave Danny Franco’s team some life after falling into a 0-2 hole after the first two games of the series which will now head back to the Drive In Arena for game 4.
The shorthanded reds pummelled the yellow-and-blue from the get go as Bar Timor with a career night and Idan Zalmanson picked up the slack for injured James Young and J’Covan Brown who was taken to the hospital in the second quarter after taking a hit to his neck. Derrick Williams cut the Hapoel lead to just 9 points, 50-41 with a lucky heave at the halftime buzzer, however, Timor, Zalmanson and JP Tokoto continued the onslaught in the third quarter as Maccabi’s defense was nowhere to be found to run away with the 18-point win.
Game MVP Bar Timor scored 26 points, Tokoto added 18 points and Zalmanson scored 15 points in the victory. John Dibartolomeo paced Avi Even’s team with 18 points while Keenan Evans and James Nunnally scored 12 points a piece in the loss.
A red hot atmosphere is expected for game four at the Drive In Arena on Sunday night as Franco’s squad will attempt to even up the series with the support of their home fans who will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Avi Even’s team.
“I have a lot of pride from this game after the disappointment of the first two,” Hapoel coach Danny Franco said. “We had a rough couple of months and things hadn’t been going our way. This was a win that we battled for and I can say all of the cliches, but everyone took a step up as we won this game all together.”
“We lost and we didn’t come to play the way we wanted to and planned to,” a disappointed Maccabi bench boss Avi Even said. “Hapoel came with aggressiveness and they beat us in all parameters. We had to bring our energy and intensity and unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum and our quality at both ends of the floor. We will come into the next game with a different attitude to win.”
Reds big man Idan Zalmanson reflected on the victory, “We have a team that is tough to break even when we were down 0-2 in this series. We knew that this game would be difficult without James Young and everyone played a part. We are a team with character and I can guarantee that we will leave everything on the court. This series isn’t over.”
Maccabi captain John Dibartolomeo spoke about the game from his point of view, “It’s a disappointing and frustrating night for us and it was a shame as to how we performed. A lot of our Issues are beyond basketball which are the things we really need to focus on. When that film session ends we need to be on to the next game. We’re up 2-1 and we need one more win or move onto the next round and that’s our ultimate goal.“