Today, Jews around the world marked Pesach Sheini, a holiday representing second chances.
While home fans hoped that the second game in the quarter final series at The Drive In would see Hapoel take their chance to level the series, it was Maccabi who continued taking revenge after their regular season losses to their cross-town rivals to build a commanding 2-0 series lead following a 93-86 win. Roman Sorkin (20 points and 9 rebounds) and Scottie Wilbekin (18 points and 3 assists) led the scoring for the visitors, while J’Covan Brown (26 points and 7 assists) and Idan Zalmanson (17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists) led the scoring for the hosts.
Hapoel started strongly, with multiple baskets for each of James Young (11 points and 4 rebounds) and Zalmanson helping them get out to an 8-3 lead within the first two minutes. Then, fans could have been forgiven for thinking that Lag Ba’Omer had started early, with the Hapoel fans letting off flares inside the stadium. Unfortunately, the result was a pause in play for more than 10 minutes while everyone on the court waited for the smoke to clear.
Once play resumed, Maccabi went on a 16-2 run, getting out to a 19-10 lead, before Hapoel captain Bar Timor (15 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists) settled the home team with two three-pointers towards the end of the first quarter, and Maccabi led 24-18 at the first break.
While the teams exchanged buckets to start the second quarter, Maccabi started to break away and looked like the much more confident team on the court. Halfway through the quarter, Maccabi led 34-26, and only extended their lead into the main break, leading their cross-town rivals 50-36. It was a disappointing half for Hapoel, as they saw three players on the other side go into the locker room at half time in double figures – Sorkin with 14 points, and 10 points for each of Keenan Evans (15 points and 4 rebounds and 3 assists) and Derrick Williams (16 points 6 rebounds and 2 assists).
Did you notice that the name Wilbekin did not appear in that list of Maccabi players in double figures? Well, he came out firing after half time, scoring 11 points in the third quarter alone. Maccabi stretched their lead out to 67-51 with 3:58 left in the quarter, and things started to look even grimmer for the home side, as Young limped off and into the change rooms (for the second time in the game), and did not return. Instead of rolling over, Hapoel went on a 14-4 run to end the quarter – helped largely by Brown (who had a 17-point quarter), going into the final break smelling blood, with Maccabi hanging onto a 71-65 lead.
Although Hapoel did get within 4 points in the final quarter, it wasn’t to be for the home side. While Sorkin fouled out with 1:14 left with the score at 87-83 – giving Hapoel some hope – Zalmanson fouled out a little over half a minute later, and Hapoel was unable to complete the comeback.
At the press conference after the game, Maccabi coach Avi Even and man of the match Roman Sorkin were humble in the win, with the understanding that their job is not done yet. “We won the second game in the series, in a very difficult place to play,” Even said. “We let them get back into the game, but I’m happy that we did what we needed to do. [Game 3 in the series on] Wednesday is now a new game.”
Sorkin reiterated that he does what he needs to do for the team, rather than for himself, and the important thing is that they won. “I am part of the team – I’m just one player in the team. I play for the team, and not for me. We won – that’s what’s important.”
For the hosts, coach Danny Franco lamented another loss in which his team just couldn’t find a way back against Maccabi. Zalmanson listed some of the things that his team lacked in the game – including communication and aggressiveness. However, he looked forward to game 3: “We can do something different. In the end, it’s only on us and what we do, not on Maccabi. We need to win the next one to get some confidence, and to take away their confidence.”
The teams will return to Menora Mivtachim Arena on Wednesday night, where Maccabi will try to complete the sweep, while Hapoel will try to keep their season alive.