Starting 5: Harrison’s Superb, Pargo Winner Shot, Zoosman Balagan, Holon Shocker – Wrapping up Game 1 of the Israel Basketball Playoffs

1) D’Angelo Harrison was superb once again for Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion and took the bull by the horns in the club’s 87-72 win over Maccabi Haifa. The St. John’s product was great when he played in Israel with Hapoel Gilboa Galil in 2017/18 and was one of my personal favorite players and not just because I’m a Red Storm fan and former season ticket holder. The two time First Team All Big East player also featured in Turkey, Russia and France before returning to the Holy Land. It’s just that Harrison is a dynamic and energetic player who is one that fans would buy a ticket to watch in action. 27 points, 11 rebounds and an efficiency rating of 35 will do that for sure, especially in a playoff game. “His energy is just infectious,” exclaimed center Zach Hankins. “He cares about a lot more than scoring. We actually had a competition today about who would get more rebounds, and he worked really hard at it (but still lost). He does all the little things to win and it’s great to play with someone like that.” Harrison had this to say about his and his team’s performance, “Job’s not done and I haven’t won a playoff series since I have been a pro. My main focus right now is getting out of the first round and just continue to build good habits with the team. We have a good team, good guys and everyone is about the team which is something that you can see when we play. We stick together and make the game hard for our opponents.”

How critical was it to get off to a good start? “Getting off to a good start was really important and I think we established that we’re a defensive team and I think if we stick by that we will be fine. We’re going to start make shots and yesterday was age first time that we were really able to do so. We want to continue to get more possessions from our defense and continue to play as a team then I think we will be fine for sure.”

2) What can I say about Jeremy Pargo? His triple at the end of the third quarter arguably changed the face of the game for Jerusalem as they took a 6 point cushion into the final frame instead of only 3 with one, daring, typical Pargo ball. We’ve seen it so many times in the past. Whether it was against Galatasaray or Bayern Munich or Caja Laboral or just this past February with the Santa Cruz Warriors, Pargo is money when it comes down to a shot at the end of the clock. How critical was Pargo’s buzzer beater? His teammate Nimrod Levi said this, “This is what Jeremy does and he’s a great player as we all know. Simply this is what he does.” However, Nadav Zilberstein, the Nes Ziona coach wasn’t as convinced that this was such a critical momentum swing, “It’s a basketball game and not soccer where if you give up a goal in the 88th minute it’s over. I don’t think that this was an issue. The issue was that we were tired.”

3) Balagan was the word of the day from Yovel Zoosman and there’s no question that we saw exactly that especially near the end of the game, absolute Balagan. But a Balagan that Maccabi Tel Aviv was somehow able to snatch the game from the jaws of defeat. Somehow the Yellow & Blue were able to will their way back in the last quarter to take the win. I’m still not sure how though. But that’s basketball at its best. What was the key to the win for Maccabi? Zoosman explained, “We didn’t play well. But when we play together we can beat any team as we did in the last quarter.” Somehow Ioannis Sfairopoulo’s troops pulled it together for ten minutes and used strong defense and team play to win the final frame by a score of 20-10. “It was our effort on defense,” said the coach. “We didn’t work hard enough before the last quarter. Playoffs are different than regular season and the pressure is on the home team and we were nervous. We were inpatient and didn’t play solid defense. We gave them a chance to score points and in the last period we completely changed.” Luckily for Sfairopoulos their effort did change in the last quarter or else the would have gone into the Drive In in a hole that perhaps, just perhaps they wouldn’t have been able to dig out of.

4) The biggest question going into the Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Gilboa Galil matchup wasn’t who was going to win, but how much would Gilboa Galil win by as they came into the series with a 7 game winning streak. Most people figured this was going to be a walkover of a matchup because Holon had gotten blown out almost every game in the championship playoffs and had lost 7 in a row. But there was a bit of hope which was how coach Amit Sherf elegantly said earlier this week that he would have still preferred to play against the likes of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem and Rishon Le’Zion rather than play in the relegation playoffs and that the tough games would potentially be a positive, which of course turned out to be the case. Sure, Holon looked like a lost dog for the first 3 quarters but Shavon Coleman and Israeli veterans Guy Pnini, Shlomi Harush and Yogev Ohayon all turned it on in the final frame to outscore Lior Lubin’s squad 27-9 to take a close 80-77 victory.

“We waited a long time experience a win,” said Ohayon. “Between the quarantine and defeats it was really tough, but we started coming back in the 3rd quarter. We gave a lot of heart and soul. I think we did a great job with our team defense. Galil is a tough and young team and I believe that they will be ready to respond but we have to come back on Monday with the same desire and drive.” Guy Pnini had this to say, “No question we waited for a while for the win. The championship playoffs were tough and we knew that we had something to give in this game. The first 35 minutes didn’t go the way we wanted but then we were able to come through in the final quarter thanks to Shlomi, Shavon and Yogev.”

Dov Halickman Photography

5) Congratulations are in order for Amit Sherf who took his first win as a head coach in the Israel Basketball League and one of the reasons he was able to pull it off was because Holon went 6/8 from behind the arc in the last period. Sherf didn’t seem phased by his debut victory and was already thinking about the next mission, “All that is going through my head is Monday’s game. We are feeling happy because we won, but we have to be ready for the next game. The first part of the game was like we had played so far, but you could see that we really buckled down in the 4th quarter as Yogev, Guy and Shlomi were on the floor down the stretch to help us come back.” Lior Lubin also reflected on the game that was, “We couldn’t find ourselves on the last quarter and we tried to figure out a way to break out but in the playoffs it’s tough and we fell primarily due to their experience. We played well for three quarters but big players make big plays and Holon deserves a lot of credit as they were able to take advantage of that in the 4th quarter. We played some close games this year and we have to play the full 40 minutes. We will head back home for the game Monday and we will be ready to go.”

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