It’s not everyday that Maccabi Tel Aviv gets to play against a defense like the one Hapoel Jerusalem served up and they took full advantage of it by cruising to a 101-80 victory in the Israeli Classico. The Yellow & Blue were in full control from the get go as Ante Zizic pounded home 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the paint and Scottie Wilbekin scored 29 points on 8/13 from from the outside.
It never felt that Jerusalem had a chance. To add insult to injury, and putting the Reds brutal performance aside, the biggest problem coming out go the game unfortunately won’t be their defense but the injury that Tamir Blatt suffered with under 34 seconds left in the game. The Israeli guard who finished his night with 21 points and 7 assists went down in a heap as he clutch the back of his knee as he was carried off my his teammates.
“I hope the injury isn’t that bad and I’m speaking from the heart, he’s so important to us,” exclaimed Jerusalem coach Oded Katash. Of course, the question does have to be asked why Blatt and most of the starters were still in the game in the 4th quarter of a blowout.
If Katash was thinking that this would send a message ahead of their State Cup game on Monday against Hapoel Gilboa Galil at Gan Ner, it certainly backfired. In fact, usually when psychological mimd games are played, they usually never work just look at the Malcolm Hill experiment in Bosnia against Igokea.
Down by 15 points heading into the final frame use the first few minutes to try and make a dent in the deficit, if you can’t it’s time to clear the benches and bring on Niv Balul, Yuval Schneiderman, Adi Cohen Saban and Chris Smith. Why risk your players in a league game when you have a critical State Cup knockout clash.
There as some hopeful news about Blatt coming from his teammate Jamil Wilson who scored 11 points on 3/12 shooting in 30 minutes of play. “We heard that he should be fine and he was walking before I got up here and that’s a good sign. He will be checked tomorrow.”
“It’s always hard to see a player like that get hurt and it puts a damper on our win,” explained Maccabi forward and fellow Sabra Oz Blayzer. “I hope it’s nothing much and I hope he can come back as soon as possible you never want to see that.”
The previous 39:26 minutes of the game were all focussed on Maccabi and how concentrated and focussed they were for the Classico. They were determined to put the Zenit St. Petersburg loss on Tuesday night behind them with a busy week ahead.
“I’m happy how we approached the game,” said Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos. “Great defense and moving the ball on offense, the players really prepared and concentrated on this game. We deserved to win the game 1000 percent and we will enjoy the win tonight but have to ready for the next game.”
Maccabi’s energy level was way, way up from what they showed against Xavi Pascual’s team and it was clear that they were on a mission to prove that they would go into 2021 on top, but according to Sfairopoulos, the victory wasn’t a statement win. “I don’t believe it was and the season is long with a lot of competitions. I don’t want to over analyze the win.”
“Our energy was down on Tuesday down but that should never be the case,” said Blayzer. “We have to make sure that it’s up.”
Ante Zizic feasted on the Jerusalem bigs scoring at will in the paint with barely a finger raised to stop him as Maccabi also dominated the boards to the tune of 50-24. Yes a 26 rebounds difference. “We didn’t handle the rebounding well to say the least,” said Katash. “You know it’s one of those games when Zizic gets 5 offensive rebounds in the first half and we had 5 in total.”
“This was our second game where we didn’t play well enough on defense and weren’t aggressive. Our game plan was to try and stop the 3’s but we weren’t able to stop them even on difficult shots.”
Wilson also reflected on what went wrong for the Reds, “It was a game of runs and we tried to push and counter, even in the fourth they hit tough shots and they capitalized. They are one of the best teams in the country.”
The difference in talent level and depth between Maccabi and Jerusalem is vast even with J’Covan Brown on the floor for the Reds who wasn’t dressed for this matchup. But Chris Kramer has been heading the wrong way and went an abysmal 0/10 while Tashawn Thomas was a disaster zone with only 9 points on 3/10.
Jerusalem will need to play a lot better on Monday when they face Gilboa and they’ll need to bring those percentages up, way up. “We have a big one on Monday,” Wilson remarked.
Regardless of the defeat, Katash knows what the keys will be in a knockout State Cup game, “To take a title you have to beat quality teams like Gilboa and we have to be prepared and execute properly. We have to win via our defense.”
It seems that Sfairopoulos will have a full complement of Israelis heading into their State Cup game on Sunday at home against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Big Derby. With Omri Casspi, John Dibartolomeo and Yovel Zoosman clicking on all cylinders, Maccabi will have three of their most important players back in the saddle after ending out with a variety of injuries.
Casspi scored 7 points, grabbed 3 rebounds and added 3 assists in 13 minutes of action where he had an efficiency rating of 19, Dibartolomeo scored 5 points, pulled down 7 boards and dished out 5 assist in 23 minutes while Zoosman chipped in with 9 points and 5 rebounds inn 21 minutes.
While Casspi is on a minutes restriction since returning and there is concern of not over burdening him, it seems likely that he will be dressed for Sunday’s Derby. “I will talk to the doctors about Omri but he is ready to play and his personality is very important for us. The more he plays the better and better he will be. I’m happy as well to have John and Yovel back.”
I bet you the coach isn’t the only one happy to have them back, I’m sure that the fans are as well.