Maccabi Tel Aviv drops Hapoel Jerusalem 91-78 in Israeli Classico

Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Jerusalem 91-78 at Yad Eliyahu as the yellow-and-blue led wire to wire throughout the contest. Captain John Dibartolomeo led all scorers with 22 points and 7 rebounds, Scottie Wilbekin dropped 20 points, while Tarik Black added 13 points in the win. Tamir Blatt was the high scorer for Jerusalem with 15 points as J’Covan Brown added 12 points and DaSean Butler and Alex Chubrevich each chipped in with 11 points in the loss.

Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s Maccabi squad came out on fire in the first quarter as Black put home a thundering dunk and Dibartolomeo hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the host’s a 26-18 lead after ten minutes. The yellow-and-blue captain, Dibartolomeo continued his stellar shooting in the second quarter as he drilled home a pair of triples to top out at 14 points by halftime while Blatt tried to keep Jerusalem close with ten points of his own as Maccabi took a 50-39 advantage into the break.

Wilbekin came out strong to begin the second half with a couple of three pointers and 13 points in the third quarter but Chubrevich showed his strength inside the paint and scored ten points in the frame to pull Oded Katash’s Jerusalem to within 7-points, 70-63 after thirty minutes of action. However, Dibartolomeo scored 8 points in the final frame to go along with 4 boards while Blatt couldn’t find his shot and was held scoreless over the last ten minutes helping Maccabi to the 91-78 victory.

1) “I believe these type of players (Wilbekin) who may lose one game with the last shot but will win after that five games with the last shot.” Stated Coach Sfairopoulos following the game. When Maccabi Tel Aviv signed Scottie Wilbekin they saw a player that was going to be a leader on the court and one who would not shy away from taking the last shot or make the risky decision with a game on the line. On Thursday night we saw him come up short in his effort against Baskonia, against Jerusalem we saw vintage Scottie, the player that can dominate a game. “Scottie is a leader of team,” began Sfairopoulos. “But it’s a new team as many haven’t played together, the coach was changed during the year so it’s very hard for everybody and it’s still a transition period where I’m learning the players and they are learning me. For Scottie this performance was very important as he’s been out with a couple of injuries which cost him his game rhythm.” And that’s the key. Scottie needs to get into a rhythm both in stand alone games as well as a streak of games. Once he gets going, he will be difficult to stop. But the injuries are still an issue and he’s still sporting a wrap on his hand.

2) Coach Sfairopoulos also spoke about the importance of the team, “I don’t want to just talk about Scottie but the whole team. Basketball is a team game and it’s also about the players that get the rebounds and play defense or who will defend one player and stop them from scoring. Feldeine played 32 and only scored 10 points. This was because of the great job that DeAndre Kane did defensively on him. This is something we don’t talk about too much but something we have to give credit to these players. This how I think about basketball and how I want to build the team.” The coach makes a very fair point as Kane absolutely nullified James Feldeine in the first half limiting him to 2/6 for just five points in 13+ minutes. The second half was no better for the guard who couldn’t get anything going as he played almost the entire half and finished the night going 3/12 for 10 points. He was the Maccabi target and was neutralized.

3) Was Maccabi Tel Aviv the best and toughest opponent that Hapoel Jerusalem faced this season including in the Champions League? Coach Oded Katash, “Yes, they were the best team we played this season including the Champions League. The amount of adjustments I had to make proves they were the toughest opponent we had to play.” DaSean Butler wouldn’t go as far as Katash anointing Maccabi as the best but knew full well that they played a better game, “I don’t know if there were the best team we played this season but they were certainly very good and were a very tough opponent. Credit to them.” The bigger question here is what we’ve seen from Jerusalem a mirage of sorts. Is the Champions League that much weaker than the EuroLeague and EuroCup? The answer is unfortunately for the Reds a resounding yes. It’s not to say that the Champions League isn’t competitive especially with teams like AEK Athens and Bamberg, but it’s nowhere near the level of the EuroCup let alone the EuroLeague. So in essence, Jerusalem dropped down a level in order to be competitive in Europe, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But for a team that was in the EuroCup for so many seasons and featured in the semifinals just two seasons ago, going to the Champions League may have been a step down. Jordi Bertomeu, the CEO and Chairman of the EuroLeague and EuroCup was recently asked about Jerusalem’s decision to leave his competition after so many years and he said bluntly that they made their decision to move to the 3rd best European League and he respects that, but at the same time as he stated, it’s the 3rd best league in the continent. Is that where Jerusalem’s aspirations are?

Maccabi Captain John DiBartolomeo had a superb game with 22 points as he absolutely sliced and diced up Jerusalem all night long. Since Coach Sfairopoulos came in, JohnD has played like his usual self in the Israeli league while beginning to earn the confidence of the coach to play in the Euroleague. However, one point that the coach has been consistently making is that since he arrived there has been little time to practice and it’s been game after game after game. I asked Dibartolomeo about not having time to practice and if it’s such a big deal, “We absolutely need more practice. To be able to play 5 on 5 with just our players is something we haven’t had enough of. We need to take advantage every time we have together to improve.” He was also asked if he felt that Maccabi proved that they are the best team, “We have a lot to prove. We are ten games into the league and there’s a long way to go. We need to continue to get better. We will play our best basketball as the season goes on.”

Maccabi shot an incredible 82% from 2 against Jerusalem going 23/28 (!). That’s a superb percentage and one I’m not sure we will see again anytime soon. The Jerusalem defense was spotty and the Yellow & Blue carved them up inside over the first twenty minutes outscoring the Reds 22-0 by their bigs. That’s quite a blow. At least Alex Chubrevich was able to drop 10 points in the 3rd quarter to give Jerusalem some life, but boy those numbers are scary.

One last thing
What is going to be with Lior Eliyahu? The Jerusalem captain put in an atrocious performance fouling out in just 4:15 of play. Last week he finally put in an inspired performance against Hapoel Tel Aviv, but against AEK and Maccabi it was a totally different story. If the Reds have any designs in the Israeli League, Eliyahu has got to be somewhat productive but at this point he’s an addition by subtraction.

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