Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Jerusalem in game one of their league semifinal series

Jun 5, 2024 | Holyland Hoops | 0 comments

Tuesday night and Wednesday is the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, a day on which Israelis celebrate Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), marking the reunification of Jerusalem following the Six-Day War in 1967. There will be parades in the Holyland’s eternal capital during the day. However, when the sun sets to indicate that the day has passed, the focus will shift 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest to Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv for the game one of the Winner League best of three games semifinal series between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem, which is scheduled to take place on Wednesday (21:00 IDT / 14:00 EDT).

Both teams swept their opponents 3-0 in the quarterfinal series to make it through to the penultimate stage of the season: Maccabi defeated Ironi Nes Ziona 109-83, 99-66 and 105-64; Jerusalem defeated Holon 93-86, 70-68 and 93-75.

“I think that some of the teams in the semifinals have the same challenge,” Katash said of the difference between the level of the quarterfinal series against Nes Ziona and the semifinal series against Jerusalem. “On the one hand it helped us to distribute the minutes between the players so that we would not come too overloaded. On the other hand, we cannot assume that it will be easy. This series will be a completely different story. Jerusalem is a good team and I’m happy for Israeli basketball that we have this series.”

While Maccabi has the advantage over Jerusalem in the league this year, winning each of their three games (90-85 in Jerusalem in February, then 90-78 and 103-71 in Tel Aviv in March and May), Jerusalem holds the bragging rights from the other two games – a 79-71 victory in the pre-season Winner Cup final in September and a shock 85-72 victory in the State Cup final in May at Tel Aviv’s own stadium.

Oded Katash – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“Hapoel Jerusalem is a good team and it will be an aggressive game,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said at Maccabi’s training session on Tuesday. “The two teams know each other and we will need to come prepared.

“There will be the same level of aggression,” Katash said of the difference between the State Cup final and the last league game between the teams. “The Cup was very unique game because of the numbers. We were not aggressive enough. I really hope that we have learned this lesson and that we will approach the game a lot more aggressively.”

“I don’t know, I don’t think in that way,” Jerusalem coach Yonatan Alon said when asked if his team goes into the series as the favorite given that they have beaten Maccabi in both title games that they’ve played this season. “We know what we need to do in order to win, whether or not we succeed in implementing this is a good question.

Yonatan Alon – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“First of all, in terms of aggressiveness we can’t allow them to play,” Alon continued. “We need to transition to defense quickly and we need to closeout rebounds well. We need to control these three aspects of the game. If we do that and if we attack intelligently, we will be able to win.”

“Jerusalem is a very talented group, a very aggressive group on both sides of the floor,” Maccabi forward Bonzie Colson said. “It should be a battle and a fun game. We’re both experienced with each other. We played them a lot throughout the season. We’ve just got to stick to our principles on the offensive and defensive end and play our game.

“We’ve just got to be physical with them,” Colson said as to what Maccabi needs to do differently as opposed to the State Cup final. “In the Cup we weren’t as physical. So if we match the physicality in the first minute of the game, we’ll be alright and we just need to stick to our principles.”

Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

Maccabi has registered Lorenzo Brown, Bonzie Colson, Josh Nebo, Jasiel Rivero and Joe Thomasson as their five foreign players for the series, while Jerusalem has registered Khadeen Carrington, Chris Johnson, Trevor Lacey, Speedy Smith and JaCorey Williams. Each team will be allowed to substitute one foreign player throughout the series. This is noteworthy as each team will be missing one of their foreign stars for game one, with Wade Baldwin IV still out of the squad due to the injury suffered in game 4 of the EuroLeague quarterfinal series against Panathinaikos and Jerusalem captain Levi Randolph out after injuring his ankle last week in game 3 of the Holon series.

“His situation is improving, but he won’t be able to play in game one, maybe he will be able to play later in the series,” Katash said of Baldwin.

“Levi is injured and he isn’t expected to take park in the game,” Alon said. “It’s not very easy and we hope to get him healthy and we will focus on who is available to play.”

Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“First, I wish that Levi gets healthy as soon as possible,” Colson said. “I know it’s tough being injured at this time. They still have guys ready to play, they have a lot of Americans who can go out there and play the game. So whether Levi is playing or not, it’s more about us and what we do, sticking to our principles and dominating the game as early as possible.”

Game two of the series is scheduled to take place at Pais Arena in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon (15:30 IDT / 8:30 EDT). If needed, game three will take place in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

On the other side of the bracket, Hapoel Tel Aviv will host Ironi Kiryat Ata in game one of their semifinal series on Thursday (21:00 IDT / 14:00 EDT), game two will be held in Kiryat Ata on Saturday (21:30 IDT / 14:30 EDT) and if needed, game three will be back at The Drive In on Monday.

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