This evening Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion tipoff in the first of two semifinals beginning at 18:30 Israel time while the nightcap will feature Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Gilboa Galil which will start at 21:15.
Both games have a number of interesting storylines that will peak the interest of any basketball fan and The Sports Rabbi is here to make some sense of what you’ll get to see this evening from Tel Aviv.
The opener will pit a Jerusalem team that has already won two domestic titles this season against Rishon who have been hard pressed to find a solution to beat the Reds, falling to Oded Katash’s team 5 times so far this year. Jerusalem took home the pre-season Winner Cup tournament after beating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final and also defeated Nahariya to win the State Cup back in February, so they will be looking to take the Treble by winning the league championship.
However, the Jerusalem team that will be fighting for the league title is different than the one which won the two previous trophies. Two mainstays over the past couple of seasons, Tashawn Thomas and J’Covan Brown are no longer with the club and in their place are Emanuel Terry and Jeremy Pargo.
While latter are not the same as the former, Terry can cause plenty of problems in the paint at both ends of the floor and Pargo can score and score and score at will when he gets going. Just a week ago he notched 22 points, went 6/8 from beyond the arc and can still use his veteran savvy to will a team to win.
Of course Tamir Blatt will be a key threat form deep, but the big question is will Niimrod Levi be given the same minutes that he has been getting up until now? Levi has been terrific since the league returned to action and it will be interesting to see if Katash will trust him with 40 minutes to go until the final.
The other big factors will be James Feldeine and John Holland’s roles for the Reds. Feldeine has not been the main feature over the past month for Katash and while he’s been scoring points he hasn’t been the top player. When Holland scores and scores early, good things happen to Jerusalem so it will be key to get him going early.
For Guy Goodes’s Rishon Le’Zion crew which pretty much the same team that was out together back in September, Alex Hamilton, Darryl Monroe and D’Angelo Harrison have been clicking on all cylinders heading into the semifinal matchup as the wine city squad will try to beat Jerusalem for the first time this season.
The key player will be center Zach Hankins who arrived at Rishon during the coronavirus break. Goodes brought him over with one mission in mind, to beat Jerusalem and Maccabi. Well he’s done that to Maccabi twice but is still winless versus the Reds and will look to change that tonight.
It’s not just Hankins though, Rishon will need its Israeli scorers, Adam Ariel and Oz Blayzer to find the bottom of the basket as well. They will be very critical if Rishon wants to beat Jerusalem. As D’Angelo Harrison said, the uglier the game the better for us. It will be interesting.
In the second semifinal Maccabi Tel Aviv will look to punch their ticket to the championship game when they play Hapoel Gilboa Galil. The Yellow & Blue will be short a number of players but will have their on court leader Scottie Wilbekin back in the saddle after having been suspended for the decisive game of the club’s quarterfinal series against Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Wilbekin was the player most relieved that Maccabi won as it gave him another breath of life heading into the Final 4 and will surely be focussed on the task at hand which was something he has had problems with since returning to play. Aside from Wilbekin Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos will certainly hope that both Tyler Dorsey and Deni Avdija will give the same performances they did in game 3 versus the Reds and make the game a lot easier than Gilboa Galil will try to make it.
The keys for Maccabi though will be Jake Cohen and Othello Hunter. Both will need to get going on the offensive end of the court and help carry some of the burden for the reining champs after giving struggled of late. The other issue for Maccabi will be making sure they stay out of foul trouble as they will still be playing with a short bench as there are a number of players who will be unavailable due to injuries.
Lior Lubin, is in my eyes the coach of the season in the Israeli league and he will try to show everyone exactly why he deserves that award tonight. Prior to the COVID-19 break the Galilee team was playing solid ball and after the have been even better. With a number of new foreign players coming over to Israel including Akil Mitchell, Tim Coleman and Joe Thomasson to compliment Michael Young, Galil has a number of solid players who will give Maccabi fits.
Add Iftach Ziv who has been playing his best basketball and seems to have an amazing connection with Mitchell, Netanel Artzi and a number of other young Israelis including Amit Gershon, Yotam Hanochi and Benayahu Sror to the imports and if they are all hitting their shots as they did in game 2 against Holon then Lubin will have more than a fighters chance to win the semifinal and shock the Israeli basketball landscape by advancing to the final.
Can Gilboa Galil do the unthinkable? Well, they’ve done it before in a different lifetime when Oded Katash and Jeremy Pargo defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv in the 2009/10 Final. So perhaps, the best answer I can give is that this is why the games aren’t played on paper but on the hardwood.
Enjoy tonight’s semifinals and may the best teams win!