Maccabi may have taken the Classico but Dzikic and Jerusalem have bigger fish to fry as AEK looms

Apr 3, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv may have defeated Hapoel Jerusalem and exacted an ounce of revenge after falling to the Reds in the State Cup, but truth be told, Aleksandar Dzikic and the capital city squad have much bigger fish to fry on Tuesday in BCL quarterfinal action.

Jerusalem knew full well heading into the “Israeli Classico” that the number one priority was going to be game one against AEK Athens at the same arena on Tuesday night and that was going to take precedence in every way, shape and form.

Arguably Dzikic’s most important players were not dressed in Speedy Smith and Levi Randolph, while the bench boss gave heavy minutes to players who won’t see much if any of the floor versus their Greek foes.

Noam Yaacov – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman


Noam Yaacov with the start played close to 30 minutes, TJ Cline checked in with 15 minutes, Oz Blayzer played 19 minutes, Siim Sander Vene was on the floor for 21 minutes while big man Gilad Levi played 7 minutes. Most if not all of these minutes against AEK will be played by others on Tuesday and should this game have been the State Cup final or domestic playoff series that would have been the case as well.

Jerusalem had to do what Jerusalem needed to in order to put themselves in the best position to advance against AEK and Maccabi Tel Aviv were just the beneficiaries of the calendar as they took care of business.

Coach Dzikic discussed the game that was but also the importance of the upcoming European clash in just a couple of days, “At some moments they looked very good and some we looked the way we should. It wasn’t our best performance and if you watched the schedule the last two weeks both teams were tired. We have to put this game behind us and look ahead to Tuesday.”

Sure the yellow-and-blue dressed their best lineup for the Classico and went with the 5 imports that have been most dominant in Euroleague play, but just as Jerusalem needed to do what Jerusalem needed to do, Maccabi did what Maccabi needed to do as well.

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman


“Everyone remembers what happened [in the State Cup],” Jake Cohen said. “We want to make up for that, we didn’t play our best basketball and it was a way to regain our momentum against them specifically.”

Maccabi assistant coach Josep Maria Berrocal also spoke about the importance of the win over Jerusalem, “I want to win every game. We had this game [the State Cup loss] in mind and it was bad as we lost. We learnt from that game and we came here to win despite Jerusalem changing their roster. We always want to win but we don’t look at this as a revenge game after losing the cup. We wanted to come with the best team that we could.”

Could this version of Jerusalem beaten Maccabi? Most probably not, but no matter who was wearing the red-and-black city uniforms for Dzikic’s squad, the expectation was to do the best in order to win the game no matter how the minutes were split up and no matter who was on the other side of the court.

Aleksandar Dzikic – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman


“In moments we were not ourselves we had to play defensively at the level that we know that we can play and I was expecting a bit more,” Dzikic explained. “Some of the mistakes were unforced and some of the decision making on both ends of the floor had to be better. It’s so easy to forget that Maccabi are a Euroleague playoff team and that’s a fact. Everyone wants to beat Maccabi every game but it’s simply not how it works.”

The bottom line is that any competitor, whether coach or player wants to do the best that they can do no matter what the odds are and that is true on both sides of the court.

“The first half wasn’t the picture of what we were expecting from ourselves,” a down Siim Sander Vene said following the game. “We had way too many turnovers and made bad decisions. We didn’t play as we had planned and that was the result. It’s a game that we wanted to win and we just performed poorly.”

Siim Sander Vene – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman


For Cohen, it didn’t matter who was going to be on the other side of the court, “I have no idea, that’s not in my control and not in my thought process. That’s got nothing to do with me, I’m going to play against the guy that is across from me and try to do my best.”

Maccabi will play Zalgiris on Thursday night in Lithuania as they look to finally and officially out the stamp on advancing to the playoffs which they still haven’t done despite sporting a 19-13 record and a 6-game continental winning streak.

For Dzikic and Jerusalem they will look to take a 1-0 series lead and keep the dreams alive as they look to win the BCL title for the first time in their history. This will be the club’s best chance to win a European Championship since Simone Piagianni took the Reds to the EuroCup semifinals in 2017.

Simone Pianigiani – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman


The bench boss is aware that the expectations are there and this is something that the club has been working to achieve since day one of this season.

“We can’t pretend that it’s not important because everything we worked for in the competition was to be get to the final four. We understand the opportunity and we want to use it. We have worked very hard for seven months to put us into this situation and we want to do our best in the BCL playoff games.”

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