Pay back. That’s exactly what Hapoel Gilboa Galil did on Wednesday night up in Gan Ner as they took the game right to Maccabi Tel Aviv winning 81-76 just like the Yellow & Blue had done to them two days earlier and ensured that there would be a decisive game three less than 24 hours later back at Yad Eliyahu.
One game, 40 minutes for all of the marbles. The league title on the line, the championship at stake and one trophy just waiting to be hoisted into the air.
Can Maccabi win their fourth in a row? Will Gilboa take the unlikely title? Those questions will most probably be answered Thursday night at 11pm. But for now let’s get back to how and why Avishay Gordon’s team were able to stun Maccabi and send the series back to the center of the country.
“At the press conference, Ioannis said that the pressure is on us, but I whispered to him, no pressure,” Gordon said following his team’s 81-76 victory, referring to the League Gala the day before. “Now the pressure is on Maccabi. We have one more game to go. The initial shock of being in the finals came in the first game and our crowd and players gave their heart and soul for this win.”
Heart and soul for sure as Gilboa made sure that there would be no repeat performance from Monday night’s opener. The Galilee team blitzed Maccabi from the opening tip and buried them in a massive hole after just one quarter as the kept the pressure on throughout the first half.
However, basketball as they say is a game of runs and Scottie Wilbekin, perhaps the only Maccabi player that showed up, took the bull by the horns and scored 34 points to try and will his team to victory and the airport a day early to head back home. But on this night, it was Gilboa who pulled through despite seeing their lead evaporate to 74-74 with two minutes to go.
“I was a bit worried,” Iftach Ziv began. “We had been up by 15 points and now the game was tied. I don’t know what happened and how we lost such a lead, but it was our day and I knew we would be able to win. It came down to plays of will and heart and I knew someone would step up.”
Joe Thoamsson, Kerry Blackshear and Jeheye Floyd all did as each and every one of them contributed in their own way to the win.
Thomasson hit a huge 3-pointer to put the hosts up 77-74, Blackshear not only clocked in with a double double but was able to get free to drill in a trio of triples and Floyd, well Floyd did what Floyd does; playing suffocating defense while also putting down highlight reel dunk after highlight reel dunk.
On the other side of the court, Maccabi captain John Dibartolomeo spoke about his thoughts when the score was all knotted up at 74-74. “Get a stop especially these types of games come down to details and we couldn’t get that last stop. Credit to them for making the plays.”
Ziv’s fadeaway in the paint was one of those plays that Maccabi needed to stop and couldn’t as the leader of the pack closed out the win.
“We didn’t start well and that stayed with us the whole game,” Maccabi coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos explained. “We missed 5-6 layups under the rim and we were stressed to finish the plays which cost us. We gave up a lot of easy points, 30 in transition. We came back to tie up the game 74-74 which was a big effort. The last minute was judged on the small details. It’s 1-1 and the final is tomorrow, we will play much different than today.”
The Yellow & Blue bench boss was not pleased with his team’s effort to say the least and saw them as unprepared as they attempted to win the league title. “We weren’t ready mentally to play a tough game and we knew they were going to come hard. It’s not easy to win a game with 24% from two.”
Maccabi set a new low by going 10/41 from two and that was led by Ante Zizic who was an abysmal 2/8 while Othello Hunter was no better going 1/6. Sfairopoulos said that Zizic has a back injury and needed to take an injection to play, but he was just not able to play up to the level that was needed to and was grimacing time after time in pain. Will Zizic play and how effective will he be? That’s a big, big question.
Everyone stepped up for Gilboa from young center Benyahu Srur who scored 6 points including going 4/6 from the free throw line while also banging around Zizic time and time again giving Floyd and Blackshear a breather or Netenal Artzi who Gordon wanted to have him sit with Omri Casspi after the season to give him some tips as he continues his career.
But right now there is a game to be played less than 24 hours later which is something that the teams have yet to experience in a season that it seems everything was experienced.
“It’s difficult and it’s tough for both teams. We played for ten months to get to the title and we will fight for that title,” exclaimed Sfairopoulos.
Dibartolomeo also chimed in on playing two nights in a row, “We haven’t played back to back but the two teams know each other well.”
However, Ziv went straight and to the point, “We have an important game tomorrow and we’re ready.”