Maccabi Tel Aviv wrapped the Israel Basketball League Championship with a 73-67 win over Hapoel Gilboa Galil to take their finals best of there series 2-1. After splitting the first two games, the yellow-and-blue came out strong as finals MVP Scottie Wilbekin helped Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team to a 42-29 halftime lead as Gilboa’s Kerry Blackshear and Jehyve Floyd got into early foul trouble.
Avishay Gordon’s squad made a frantic fourth quarter comeback on the strength of Amit Gershon sharp shooting from long distance along with fine play by Joe Thomasson to pull to within 3-points, 63-60 as time ran down. But clutch baskets by Othello Hunter and Chris Jones sent Maccabi to their 55th league title and 4th in a row as captain John Dibartolomeo hoisted the championship plate into the air to the delight of the 11,000 strong fans.
Scottie Wilbekin led the way with 19 points while Chris Jones and Angelo Caloiaro each scored 10 points. Amit Gershon was Gilboa’s high scorer with 14 points, Iftach Ziv added 11 points and Jehyve Floyd chipped in with 9 points in the defeat.
Following the game, Omri Casspi, Israel’s first representative in the NBA spoke about perhaps having played his final game as a professional as he would consider hanging up his sneakers after taking the Israeli league title.
The 32-year old began his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv and then played for one season up in the Galilee with Hapoel Galil Elyon together with current Gilboa coach Avishay Gordon. In 2009, Casspi was the first Sabra selected in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft when he was taken with the 23rd pick overall by the Sacramento Kings.
After having played a decade in the world’s greatest league with not only the Kings but the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies, the Yavne native returned to his country of birth just in time for the 2019/20 campaign. However, following a stellar start to the season both domestically and in Europe, Casspi suffered a knee injury that kept him out of action for roughly and entire calendar year before finally returning in the middle of this past campaign.
Returning during a season that was plagued with the coronavirus pandemic was not easy for any player and that was also true for Casspi as he averaged 6.6 points, 4 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 14 Israeli league games while in 16 Euroleague contests he checked in with 4.1 points, 2.4 boards and under an assist a game.
“We achieved our goals here domestically with a winning the Israeli league championship, State Cup title and also a WINNER Cup. Now we have to look ahead,” Casspi said.
Coming back from an injury is never simple and from a serious knee injury even more so, “I feel very good, physically. The surgery that I had was excellent. On the other hand, the mental aspect of having an injury and returning to play from an injury is not easy. I’ll have to take some time to think and relax a bit.”
As for the open question of next season, Casspi is still unsure of what his ultimate decision will be and needs time to think over his future. “I have no idea about next season. I have had a lot of various thoughts. Right now I need time to rest and clear my head, be with my family and then make my decision.”
“We have a lot of good guys on the team and we also had to overcome having two players who left the club as well. Tyler Dorsey who departed due to the war and Elijah Bryant left even before that to the NBA. It wasn’t simple so with all of these issues plus the corona, the testing, the war and injuries we still persevered through it all and we won the game and took the title.”