Only Hapoel Tel Aviv and their faithful believed that their dream season against Maccabi Tel Aviv would continue on. That is why the Reds supporters packed into their now netted off section in the second level of Yad Eliyahu full of passion, desire and will to help spur on their shorthanded heroes to a shocking, stunning and surprising victory which cut the yellow-and-blue series lead to 2-1 and send their quarterfinal tilt back to their home turf at the Drive In Arena on Sunday night.
After going down two games to none in the highly anticipated Derby playoff series, it looked as if Maccabi would ease by their city rivals to a sweep after falling a trio of times during the season to the Reds. Critics and basketball fans alike expected that a Hapoel team without James Young who left game two with an injury and then losing star guard and yellow-and-blue killer J’Covan Brown near the end of the second quarter to a neck injury would be done and finished, without any gasoline in the tank. However, that was not to be.
“I have a lot of pride from this game after the disappointment of the first two,” Hapoel coach Danny Franco said. “We had a rough couple of months and things hadn’t been going our way. This was a win that we battled for and I can say all of the clichés, but everyone took a step up as we won this game all together.”
Israeli guard Bar Timor picked up the slack to score a career high 26 points, going 6/7 from 3-point land while grabbing 5 boards and dishing out 6 assists in an all-world performance.
The Reds captain took the bull by the horns and made sure that his team would live to see another day explained Franco, “Bar took the game upon himself. Before the second half he went to see J’Covan before he headed to the hospital and he said that I’m going to take this. His teammates came along for the ride in a game that we had to win. However, this game can’t help us in the next game but we were broken coming here and we wanted this win.”
Hapoel certainly wanted this win more than Maccabi did who played a no-show that was one of their most embarrassing defeats of the season in which many players just didn’t have the drive to finish off the series in front of their own fans.
Whether it is Derrick Williams, James Nunnally, Jalen Reynolds or Scottie Wilbekin who had an atrocious shooting display, or Israelis Jake Cohen and Iftach Ziv everyone needs to be accounted, present and play to the best of their abilities in order for Maccabi to win. Coach Avi Even always hammers the idea of commitment, but there was very little by the Yellow & Blue in this game.
Now with the series heading back to the Drive In, anything can happen.
“We have a team that is tough to break even when we were down 0-2 in this series,” supporting star Idan Zalamanson said. “We knew that this game would be difficult without James Young and everyone played a part. We are a team with character and I can guarantee that we will leave everything on the court. This series isn’t over.”
Maccabi had hoped that the series would be over, but that was not to be as once again a number of their foreign players didn’t show the responsibility needed to lock in and finish the job off.
“We lost and we didn’t come to play the way we wanted to and planned to,” a disappointed Maccabi bench boss Avi Even said. “Hapoel came with aggressiveness and they beat us in all parameters. We had to bring our energy and intensity and unfortunately we weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum and our quality at both ends of the floor. We will come into the next game with a different attitude to win.”
Even was distraught to say the least as he sat at the podium bitter and angry most probably at the embarrassing performance his players had put on at their home arena. That along with the thought and pressure that Hapoel could even up the series back at home and then try to steal the best of five tilt back at Yad Eliyahu would have made any Maccabi supporter ill.
However, Yellow & Blue captain John Dibartolomeo shed some light on some of the serious problems at hand with the team and are not as he said on the court, “A lot of our issues are beyond basketball which are the things we really need to focus on. When that film session ends we need to be on to the next game. We’re up 2-1 and we need one more win or move onto the next round and that’s our ultimate goal.”
That may be Maccabi’s goal but Franco and Hapoel certainly have other plans for Sunday night’s game, “We always believe and we did so before this game as well. We wouldn’t have won today if we didn’t believe that we could win this game and this series. We have a group of guys that are really connected and my staff also deserves a ton of credit. We want to get the last drop out of this season no matter what happens.”
Hapoel has certainly had a good season, although they had a rough couple of months. By defeating Maccabi numerous times this season whether it was in the regular season or in the State Cup it was been more than a successful campaign for the Reds.
Maccabi will need to be present and accounted for in game four or else they will be staring at an elimination game 5 winner take all back at home and that is the last thing Avi Even wants to have to contemplate.
“We got smacked in the face. We had a horrible performance and I can’t say anything else. It’s not supposed to be this way. I believe in this group of guys and we will find our way just as we did up until now. They are a good team and when we aren’t good enough to say the least. It doesn’t matter who we will play.”