Wilbekin 4 Israel, Holon up + Jerusalem down, Gutt night: Israel Basketball’s Storylines as play resumes

The Israel basketball league got back underway on Thursday night with a smorgasbord of games all being played up north due to the security situation. However, that won’t be the case come Saturday night when teams are allowed to host the matchups back in their home arenas as a ceasefire is in place between Israel and Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

After a couple of weeks off with very little practice and with some teams losing a number of their foreigners, it was clear that the players would come in a bit sluggish and that was certainly the case with four games finishing with double digit victories. Were there some surprises? Certainly there were, why wouldn’t there be in the Israeli league. So let’s dive into the stories coming out of league’s return to action.

The one game that was relatively close throughout was Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 67-65 victory over Hapoel Gilboa Galil. The Yellow & Blue were without Elijah Bryant who signed with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Tyler Dorsey who departed the country as well as Othello Hunter who wasn’t listed while Gilboa were with our the services of injured guard Joe Thomasson. Both sides were a bit slow as they looked to get their feet back under them, “It was a tough game after being off for a week and half,” Maccabi star guard Scottie Wilbekin explained. “We needed to get our legs under us and get the win. What makes it tough was the time off. It was 36-36 at half-time, we were getting open shots but we were just missing them because of the time off and that’s what’s tough about playing right now. We’re focussed in basketball, just basketball.”

Jehyve Floyd also looked back at the game that was as both teams looked to get back into the swing of things, “Not going to lie, it was tough preparing for the game with everything going on but once we got on the court it was just basketball. We competed, but had lapses in the third quarter again that we need to fix going into playoffs. In order to win, we need everybody healthy and focused so we can play like we’ve done all season.”

Coach Sfairopoulos was content with his team’s performance due to the situation that the entire country had to endure, “Our defense was very good we controlled the game from our good defense especially in the 3rd quarter. We could have won easier avoiding some easy baskets they scored in the last two minutes. We didn’t have a lot of days to prepare the game and we had 8 days without practices. We were very concentrated and for the conditions we had to play the game we excited really well.”

Finally, Wilbekin who has been extremely pro-Israel on social media along with his wife Maria had this to say about why, “Just to show support. There is a lot of misinformation being spread by people I follow in America and I want to spread the truth. I’m here and I’ve talked to multiple people here and you guys know better than people just posting something on Twitter in the States.”

Hapoel Jerusalem lost four key players during the security situation and signed a couple of Leumit player to take their places which proved to just not be enough as Hapoel Holon overwhelmed the Reds 103-81 in game that wasn’t even that close. Yonatan Alon didn’t have much to work with as after the starting 5 the bench was very, very thin. Su Braimoh, Tamir Blatt, Chris Kramer and the other veterans didn’t have close to enough firepower to match Holon who were without Isaiah Miles who left the country but who did have a very capable replacement in Nate Sestina who took his place and earned the MVP honors. “Isaiah was a big part of this team and is still helping out. He told me and said go in hit some shots and play with a lot of energy.”

Holon Coach Stefanos Dedas didn’t hide the fact that Jerusalem isn’t having a good year to say the least, “Jerusalem doesn’t have a very good defense this year and it was good for us as we have beat them three times. They are a big team, but we dominated them this year.” As for sliding Sestina in for Miles so fluidly? “The system is most important and he replaced Miles with the pick and pop.”

Will Jerusalem be able to make any type of noise even with the rumored return of captain J’Covan Brown? Chances are slim as Idan Zalmanson explained, “It’s a new roster and we split the minutes up at the end for all the players. It’s tough to play a game every 48 hours. We had a few practices together but it’s not normal. Some guys are playing now that didn’t play earlier because we had a deeper roster back then. I can’t really say what I want to say as we are on television.” I wonder what Zally wanted to say…

Speaking of Nes Ziona and Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion, both teams won their respective games as Brad Greenberg’s squad downed hapless Maccabi Haifa 106-79 and Guy Goodes’s crew somewhat surprised Bnei Herzliya 106-88. Nes Ziona, who were playing with a full complement deserve a ton of credit for taking care of their players during the security situation by sending all of the foreigners up north and away from the line of Hamas fire. In turn they won their 9th game in a row across all competitions as Braian Angola once again paced the team with 27 points.

But what was even more impressive was Rishon Le’Zion’s performance with only one import, Akil Mitchell as three players, Jeremy Pargo, Darryl Monroe and Jamil Wilson all departed. The Israeli contingent including newly minted captain rising star Noam Dovrat, Golan Gutt, Egor Koulechov and Nimrod Tishman. The Sabras took the bull by the horns and ran Herzliya out of the gym over the course of the second half. Coach Goodes was more than impressed, “I told them that I was very proud of them and with only have one import, Akil Mitchell.” Gutt who led the way with 34 points spoke about the keys to victory, “Everyone of us had to come into the game differently and we recorded a great win. I’m very proud of the team.” Will the current roster without three main players be good enough to help them get into the playoffs? That is still to be determined, but if the win over Herzliya was any indication, then there is one helluva good chance.

Before Nahariya knew it, Beer Sheva was already up 18-0 as they cruised to the 90-75 win which could have been easier than it was after Rami Hadar’s team saw the advantage evaporate over the second half to just 9 points. But the southern reds righted the ship without two of their most important players Caleb Agada and Eric Griffin who both left the country. All in all, Beer Sheva did what they had to do, pick up the victory but they also pleasantly saw Spencer Weisz and Travis Warech each have strong games on the same day which has been a rarity all season long while also receiving fine play by mid-season acquisition Nick Hornsby with 14 points. The former German league player may be a key part in helping Hadar’s squad punch their ticket to the playoffs as they sit in 8th place with a game in hand over 7th place Nes Ziona and 9th place Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion. This will be worth watching over the next week as the regular season coms to a dramatic end.

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