This is it – the final game of the best of three game final series of the 2022-23 Winner League season between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv, which will take place at Menorah Mivtachim Arena – Yad Eliyahu on Tuesday at 21:00 IDT (14:00 EDT).
The teams are locked at 1-1, after Maccabi won game one 90-79 on Thursday night and Hapoel stunned Maccabi with a 112-74 victory in game two on Sunday night. It was an ugly start and finish to the game for the Yellow & Blue, going down by 19 points after 10 minutes and scoring only 9 points in the final quarter.
“It was definitely a tough experience and I think we got humbled,” Maccabi’s star forward Bonzie Colson said ahead of game 3. “But we’re going to learn from it, we’re definitely going to play better. But I think we could’ve played better on both sides of the floor, especially to start the game. They wanted it more, you could see it a little bit. But we’re going to bounce back and do what we can do to get the win tomorrow.”
If Hapoel shoots close to how they shot on Sunday night, it will indeed be a challenge for Katash’s squad to get the win: Hapoel shot at 58% from the floor, including 54% from long range. That was a dramatic improvement on their 52% field goal percentage and 20% from three in game 1 on Thursday night.
“We must defend better,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said. “It started with how we opened the first quarter, we had 8 turnovers. We were not too committed and I think that allowed them to get too many easy baskets and got them into the game. After that, they also shot at an excellent percentage, they’re a very talented team, but it of course needs to start with our defense tomorrow.
“The specific experience yesterday and how the game developed and everything surrounding it, really makes it more meaningful,” Katash added. “We didn’t expect that the result would be like that and the way that we played, one of our weakest games, maybe our weakest game of the season and indeed at this stage of the season. Therefore, I think that our responses needs to be appropriate.”
Maccabi saw a significant drop in productivity from some of their game 1 stars: in game 1, Lorenzo Brown had 13 points and 7 assists for a performance index rating (PIR) of 22 (the best of both teams), while in game 2 he managed 4 points and 7 assists for a PIR of only 2; Jake Cohen, who was arguably the best player on the court in game 1 with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists for a PIR of 20, had much less of an influence in game 2 with 6 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist for a PIR of only 6. It was also a night on which Hapoel destroyed Maccabi on the boards, winning the rebound count 43-31, with Maccabi’s frontcourt of Jarell Martin, Alex Poythress, Roman Sorkin, Cohen and Colson combining for 19 rebounds – which Hapoel’s Chinanu Onuaku, Tomer Ginat and Jaylen Hoard alone were able to match alone.
However, it wasn’t all gloomy, with Wade Baldwin IV (18 points and 5 assists for a PIR of 18) and Colson (17 points and 3 rebounds for a PIR of 16) showing preventing an even more humiliating result. If Maccabi is going to lift the league trophy for the 56th time on Tuesday night, Baldwin and Colson will need to continue to play at that level, with support from the team’s other stars and the bigs under the rim.
“I think really just go back to our basics,” Colson said of the key to winning the decider. “Just playing aggressive from the jump. Answering their runs, what’s going to happen within the game and just having a good start. This whole season our identity has tried to be have a good start and we didn’t really have one yesterday. So come out of the gate strong and ready to play, everybody and just playing our game.”
“It’s a game for a title, it’s very important for us,” Katash said. “The specific experience yesterday and how the game developed and everything surrounding it, really made it more than meaningful. We didn’t expect that the result would be like that and the way that we played, one of our weakest games, maybe our weakest game of the season and indeed at this stage of the season. Therefore, I think that our responses needs to be appropriate. First, to recover and come prepared for 40 intensive minutes and also mentally, come prepared, play to win and to learn, take it and soak it up – not try to avoid our responsibility – come tomorrow and do the work.”
While Sunday’s game was a big speed bump in their quest for the title, Maccabi is determined to show that it was just a glitch and they have the right attitude to come away at the end of the night on Tuesday lifting the trophy.
“Of course you play for pride, that’s how I play, no matter what the score is, I play with everything that I have and I think our group does as well,” Colson concluded. “So we’ve just got to play better and start better and continue to enjoy the game and we’ll do that tomorrow.”