No time to celebrate: Maccabi Tel Aviv already focusing on State Cup Semifinal Derby following win over CSKA

Feb 11, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Anytime Maccabi Tel Aviv beats CSKA Moscow is cause for celebration due to the rivalry these two teams have had throughout the years in continental competition. The players are happy, the professional staff are content and above all the fans are thrilled when they can put a check mark next to the Russian squad’s name as a victory.

However, while it was great to beat CSKA 84-75 in a game that was never that close this time around, it was a bit more muted than other wins against them or any other Euroleague club. Why you ask? That’s because Maccabi has Hapoel Tel Aviv on deck in a one game Israel State Cup semifinal matchup on Monday and should they win that contest the final will take place on Thursday night back at home in Yad Eliyahu.

The Cup is always a crucial competition for the Yellow & Blue and a title that the club has won 45 times, more than any other club in the country. So while it was great to beat CSKA and yes it was a terrific win and while Maccabi fell to Hapoel Tel Aviv twice in about a month in Israeli League play, that all goes out the window in a winner take all matchup.

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The key going into Monday’s clash that will see Yad Eliyahu packed in a sea of Yellow & Blue on one side and Red on the other, is gong to be defense and how effective the Israeli players will be as the rules will only allow head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos the ability to dress 5 foreign players. So it will be super critical that the team will have all hands on deck just as they did at Hapoel Galil Elyon this past week in the quarterfinals.

In that game, Maccabi only remembered the word defense in the second half after having allowed over 50 first half points. But ever since that first half that saw the Yellow & Blue give up oodles of points, they have turned on the jets and upped their intensity. Whether it was conceding only 7 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half in the Galilee or ripping off a 47-17 run after starting off a bit slow against CSKA where they found themselves quickly in an 11-2 hole.

“I really enjoyed watching the team play with aggressiveness, toughness and determination the entire game,” Sfairopoulos explained. “We had one of our best first halves this season. They only scored 11 points in the second quarter and only 6 points after the timeout that we took in the first quarter. We had great percentages from the outside and we scored 49 points in the first half. The third quarter went the way we wanted and they pressed but we controlled the game from what we had done in the first half. I want to see them continue to play with passion and determination.”

John Dibartolomeo- Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

There’s no question that Maccabi played with plenty of passion and determination on this night and that is going to be the recipe to winning the State Cup as well.

“It starts with defense and we started that in the second half in Galil and continued that today,” captain John Dibartolomeo explained. “We have to be more consistent and when we are getting stops we are running and playing our best basketball. Defense is something that we focus on at the beginning and coach is stressing to us. When we are getting stops we get our best rhythm on offense, everyone enjoys scoring and you get your momentum from defense.”

Jake Cohen who has really begun to come into his own also spoke about the team’s defense and how that played a part in the win, “We were really focused from the tip, even though the first few minutes didn’t go great we continued to push hard and I thought we did a great job defensively. Evvent hough they were missing guys they still have plenty of weapons and we held them to 75 points and when you do that you’re going to have a great chance to win the game.”

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

It wasn’t just the team’s defense that spurred Maccabi to the win, but the fact that they had all hands on deck with the entire roster making a contribution to the win. Of course, Scottie Wilbekin, Keenan Evans and a number of other players are usually the key players in a Maccabi win more recently it has also been a number of veteran Israelis who have been crucial in helping the club in taking the victory. This of course is important because of the State Cup Final Four coming up next week which usually sees Israeli players making big time plays while being an important piece of the puzzle.

Against CSKA both Dibartolomeo and Cohen made huge contributions to the win with clutch baskets, savvy play and top level hustle to once again make their mark for club after a good period of time where their play was extremely inconsistent.

Cohen hit a very important corner 3-pointer when CSKA was starting to pare down the Maccabi lead in what was a big time shot for a player which for the most part has not looked like the Jake Cohen of old from a couple of seasons ago.

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I knew that Jake would come back as he has quality and he helps the team in a lot of ways,” Sfairopoulos explained. “He is smart and he can defend, rebound and he knows how to play the game. He was not in great shape and slowly he found himself and he is more ready to give to the team which I am very happy about that.”

The bench boss also complimented Dibartolomeo on his play, “John also has found himself after a long period and had been coming back after two surgeries. In fact, he started the last season late because of the surgery. It’s also the mental side of the game and he is now playing free and he is the regular John, the one who we love and know who plays great defense and he’s part of the system. I am very happy for him.”

With CSKA now out of the way and Maccabi moving their Euroleague record to 11-12, just one game under .500 and in the thick of the hunt for one of the final playoff spots, the Yellow & Blue can really begin to focus on what is next in the line; The State Cup and the semifinal Derby.

“The Derby is a huge game,” Dibartolomeo said with a smile. “After we win a Euroleague game we usually celebrate, but now we are already focusing on Monday. We had two tough losses against them, but these are the most important games and the best to play while we are here at our home arena in order to get to the final.”

Ioannis Sfairopoulos- Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Sfairopoulos also began to look ahead to the Tel Aviv Derby as he would like to exact some level of revenge after falling twice to Danny Franco’s team.

“If we play with this intensity, this is how to win games. We showed how we can win a lot of games playing this type of defense. You have to have a complete game to be good on both sides of the ball. We have to bring all of our heart to the next game.”

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