Jerusalem’s desire and drive key in Cup win celebrated with fans in the stands, held hostage and who have fallen in battle

May 17, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

It was clear as day form the get go that Hapoel Jerusalem just wanted to win the Israel State Cup more than Maccabi Tel Aviv. Despite not hitting their shots over the course of the first few minutes and heading into halftime down by almost double digits, the Reds had more energy, more drive, more desire and perhaps even a bit more pride as they came out of the break and blew away the yellow-and-blue with aggressiveness and intensityto win their 8th Cup title 82-75.

For Jerusalem this was their second straight Israel State Cup conquest after knocking off the same Maccabi last season at the Arena in the capital city. This was also the 4th time that the club had won back-to-back titles after having taken the Cup home in 1996 and 1997, 2007 and 2008, 2019 and 2020 and now in both 2023 and 2024.

Alex Tyus, Levi Randolph and Ofir Engel celebrating – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

But it wasn’t just about basketball for Hapoel Jerusalem on this day. It was even more so for those who have been put through torture due to the war with Hamas. It was for Hersh Goldberg-Polin who is being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by the terrorists. It was for Ofir Engel who had been captured and then released.

And it was for the many, many fans of the club who have fallen in battle from Ariel Reich, Shachar Friedman, Ben Zussman and Aner Shapira to sadly just name a few.

Maccabi came into the matchup after a grueling five game Euroleague quarterfinal series that they came up short to Panathinaikos while Jerusalem had just been starting to find their stride under Yonatan Alon who is the team’s third coach this season after the departures of Aleksandar Dzikic and Illias Kantzouris.

JaCorey Williams – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

The game plan for Jerusalem was simple out of the gate, crash the boards on the offensive glass to give them a chance for more attempts at the bucket and boy did the strategy work out for the good in a huge way. Hapoel had already grabbed four offensive rebounds before the game was a few minutes old and by the end of the 40 minutes they had collected a total of 38 boards split evenly at 19 a piece at both ends of the court. Add to the fact that the Reds had 81 shot attempts compared to Maccabi’s 58, a difference of 23 (!) and Alon had come up with the correct recipe to come away with the coveted trophy.

Sure Oded Katash’s team went into halftime during a 46-37 lead, but Alon’s troops came out blazing in the third quarter with an 11-0 run to flip the lead, the momentum and in essence broke Maccabi 1-2-3 very, very quickly.

From there, the snowball kept growing larger and larger as Jerusalem with superb performances by JaCorey Williams in the paint with 21 points, 6 boards with 4 of them on the offensive side, along with the captain Levi Randolph who dropped 17 points closing out the game and Yovel Zoosman who was terrific on both ends of the floor and had the key baskets to mount the reds comeback just was too much for the opposition.

Yovel Zoosman – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Add to that a phenomenal performance by Nimrod Levi with 10 points and 9 rebounds with 7 of them on offensively and Khadeen Carrington with 16 points and Alon had just the right mix to cause all kinds of issues for the Maccabi offense which saw only two players in double digits and Lorenzo Brown coughing up the ball 11 times in what was a dismal showing that he would most certainly like to forget and forget quickly.

However, the maestro and conductor of the Jerusalem offense and defense was Speedy Smith who was named as the game’s MVP for the second straight year. The point guard who scored 12 points and dished out 15 assists set the pace for the team, especially in the second half that saw Jerusalem outscore Maccabi 45-26, holding Katash’s crew to just 10 third quarter points.

And that was that. Game. Set. Match.

Yonatan Alon – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“It was a story of two totally different halves. In the first we had to chase after Maccabi but in the second half we won the game by playing defense and by our character,” Hapoel Jerusalem Head Coach Yonatan Alon said following the game.

Williams who was so crucial to the win and could have also picked up the MVP award himself, was not only as thrilled with the title but also was the beneficiary of no less than 7 of Smith’s assists that saw him dominate the paint.

“It feels good,” Williams began. “We really went out there to play right and play good defense, from there we got rolling. We worked so hard to get back to this point and we did it tonight. I give credit to the team. They found me and I got buckets. I tried to bring energy and I play my role. I’m happy for everybody and Speedy had a crazy amount of assists. He controlled the whole pace of the game.”

Speedy Smith – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Smith tried to deflect the kind words being thrown around about his play and really credited everyone on the team from top to bottom, showing how just unselfish he is and how humble the point guard is in the victory.

“It was our defense that helped us to the win. Coach Alon gave us our identity as to what we had to do in the third quarter and it was special as to what we did as a team. Nimrod Levi had one of his best games, JaCorey Williams did what he did on both sides of the court, Levi Randolph did what a captain does with big baskets to close out the game and Yovel Zoosman was terrific on defense. Credit also to all the guys on the bench who gave us a ton of energy throughout the game.”

Matan Adelson – Photo credit: Dov Halickman

Matan Adelson, the club’s new owner is now two for two in domestic titles having captured the pre-season Winner Cup way back in the fall and now the State Cup, “It feels good. My goal was to take everything, I always want to win everything. Celebrating and enjoying the hard work and dedication and overcoming the obstacles we were able to overcome this season.”

The boss also spoke about the key third period as well as how he has been enjoying the franchise, “I feel in the last couple months something clicks in the third quarter. We started off super hot, you know at the end of the day the second half was great. It’s been a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Some days are great and some are horrible. But so far it’s been an unbelievable experience.”

It was all hands on deck for Hapoel Jerusalem on this night to bring home the hardware and everyone had to do their part in finding a way to beat Maccabi on their own home court of Yad Eliyahu.

Photo credit: Dov Halickman

“In this crazy year with so many things that occurred we all had to pitch in for the club,” Alon said. “While perhaps me coming down from the front office to become the coach may not be the best thing to do, it’s great to be with the guys day in and day out. I like everyone of these guys and it’s just great to be with them.”

But all in all, it wasn’t just a win, or a trophy for Jerusalem, it was for the fans. The fans who have gone through so much trial and tribulation this season due to the war.

It was recognizing that Hersh Goldberg-Polin is still alive in Gaza as the fans unfurled a massive banner with his picture on it prior to the game.

Ofir Engel celebrating – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

It was for Ofir Engel who was held in the Gaza Strip who celebrated on the floor with the team as they lifted the cup.

It was for all those who had fallen as soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, serving the country as the club visited the Military Cemetery on Har Herzl and placed the Cup on each one of those fans who had lost they lives in order to give all of us the opportunity to live as a free people in our own country.

Ariel Reich z”l – Photo credit: Hapoel Jerusalem

Ariel Reich, Shachar Friedman, Ben Zussman, Aner Shapira and the many more who had the Cup placed on their tombstone in the middle of the night to recognize that Hapoel Jerusalem is not just a basketball club, but a family where no one will be left behind.

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