The Point of No Return

Israel’s premier basketball teams were in European action on Tuesday night as one side won big at home while the other got blown away in Turkey. If you were told that Hapoel played Zenit and Maccabi faced off against Galatasaray, who would have you thought picked up the W and L? Well if you picked Hapoel for the former and Maccabi for the latter you’d be right. The question that needs to be asked is, right now, who is Israel’s top team in Europe today? Let’s break down the games that were:

Hapoel Jerusalem soundly defeated Zenit St. Petersburg 97-81 avenging last week’s loss inflicted by the Russians on the road. Led by Amare Stoudemire with 26 points, 9 rebounds and ten fouls drawn even popped in back to back 3-pointers in the victory. Curtis Jerrells was also at the top of his game dropping 22 points while dishing out 7 assists, but he also got serious help from Jerome Dyson finishing with 18 points and Travis Peterson who went 3/4 from beyond the arc good for 14 points. Ryan Toolson was the game’s high scorer with 27 points for Zenit but it was not enough as Jerusalem moved to 3:1 in group play as they sit on the cusp of qualifying for the quarterfinals of the EuroCup.

Up in Istanbul, Maccabi was soundly defeated by 39-points, 102-63 against Galatasaray as their former center Alex Tyus dominated the paint scoring 18 points in just 17 minutes going 9/13 from the floor. Andrew Goudelock led the way for the Yellow & Blue dropping 22 points while Sonny Weems scored 12 points in the blowout loss. Maccabi now sits at 6-13 with very little chance to make it into the top 8 and effectively will need a miracle to advance to the quarterfinals.

Hapoel Coach Simone Pianigiani spoke about being something special in Europe and how he came in to help Jerusalem take a step forward in Europe and that the main goal by February was for all of Europe to respect the name of Jerusalem. Well he’s certainly accomplished that goal. Even though he warns that this is just the first step and that the team still has a way to go both in Europe and domestically in the league and the State Cup, he has been able to take his team to the upper echelon of continental play. He also referred to defeating teams such as Valencia, Ulm, Zenit and Kuban which definitely makes a mark on the basketball map.

On the flip side, listening to Maccabi coach Ainars Bagatskis after a demolition derby in Turkey shows the polar opposite of what is currently happening in the country’s capital, “If we have a little respect, we have a home game in two days against Kazan, a very good team, and will have to show that we know and can play basketball.” Those are pretty brutal words as his team amazingly only drew 12 (!) fouls all game. There have been a a lot of disappointing and depressing stats for the Yellow & Blue this season and unfortunately this game was yet another perfect display of the problems that are facing the 6-Time European Champion. To think that they won a Euroleague title just a couple of short seasons ago is scary when you see where they are now.

There’s plenty of basketball left to play this year both in Europe and in Israel and both teams have to show their worth in the three competitions they have left. That also includes Maccabi playing hard in the Euroleague even though their chances of going to the next stage is close to nil. They must use every minute that they have left to try and salvage the Cup and League where they still stand strong. The same is true for the Reds where they need to brush up a bit in league play and will have a pair of games against Maccabi Ashdod and Hapoel Holon to attempt to do just that.

February is near with Maccabi going one way and Hapoel the other. They say that the third quarter of a game is money time, well then money time arrives next week at the start of February. We are at the point of no return.

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