It was tough, it was hard, it was brutal at times, but Maccabi Tel Aviv finally got by the arch nemesis Hapoel Tel Aviv to punch their ticket to the Israel Basketball league semifinals after winning their quarterfinal series 3-1.
The Reds took it to the Yellow & Blue back at the Drive In Arena as they came out flying to take a quick double digit lead, but slowly but surely Avi Even’s squad picked up the pace and shot lights out from deep in the fourth quarter to send Danny Franco’s team packing with a 82-77 win.
After taking a commanding 2-0 series lead, Danny Franco’s crew stuck it to Maccabi at Yad Eliyahu by blowing out their city rivals and putting them on their heels, but as much as they wanted to try and send the series to a decisive game 5, it was not to be as the respective squad’s depth determined the ultimate winner.
Hapoel put a scare into Maccabi with their game 3 blowout win which sent the players, coaching staff and fans reeling for a few days. However, both Derrick Williams and Scottie Wilbekin stepped up as the former played one of his best games of the season although he felt that he had performed better in others.
“Maybe point wise it was my best,” Williams said. “I think I played some better games. I told Reggie (trainer Regev Fanan) that we were going to win. I just wanted to get the win no matter what, that’s the main thing. Now we have four more wins to go.”
The forward also referenced the game 3 defeat that could have set the team back as the series moved back to Hapoel’s home court, “With us going up 2-0 in the series, they had nothing to lose and they came into game three with a lot of confidence. We looked at ourselves in the mirror and a lot of times it has to do with us and if we are locked in we will make shots and that’s what we saw. A lot of credit to the guys when we were down 15-16 points to stay with it.”
Coach Avi Even was unhappy to say the last game, in fact he was livid, embarrassed and just genuinely upset as to how his team had played. However, he was abel to get over that defeat and move on getting the game four win in a very tough atmosphere.
“I’m happy that we were able to win here at the Drive In for the second time and that we advanced to the semifinals. I’m disappointed that we lost at home last game but we won and we moved on. I’m happy that the guys left it all on the court like we all expected as a team and as in every game that we play. We have to learn to become tougher. We took a step and we have to keep learning. We need to come in with the correct commitment.”
Being tougher and showing commitment in the playoffs come hand and hand. Nothing will be handed to anyone on a silver platter and each team will fight and battle as hard as they can no matter how many players they have at their disposal which is something that Hapoel Gilboa Galil has already to proven to Hapoel Jerusalem.
Without the correct focus and mental know how Even is well aware that his Maccabi Tel Aviv team will go nowhere. Playing at the Drive In with may stops and starts due to fans throwing things onto the court was a plentiful challenge the bench boss thoughtfully explained, “It’s fun and I like that challenge. We worked all season to get to this point and there was a very tough atmosphere here.”
The other mental side of the game is making sure that all of the players are on board including those who may not have had a chance to perform in this series whether it was Iftach Ziv or Jalen Reynolds who were both wiped out of the rotation in this past game.
It’s not simple to sit on the bench and watch your teammates play while you just stay put and not contribute to the team’s success. But Ziv was able to put that aside and embraced his head coach following the victory and could very well be back in the saddle for game 1 against Bnei Herzliya in the semifinals. Just as we’ve seen in the NBA with players such as Duncan Robinson and Caleb Martin for the Miami Heat who didn’t play or barely played at all until game 3 against the Boston Celtics. Both made contributions for their team and that can’t be discounted.
“There are players on this team that want to succeed,” Even said. “Iftach was happy and I hope that I will get him back to where we know he can play in the next series.”
Williams was also asked about how difficult it is for a player to sit and not be a part of the on court festivities, “We are all teammates and we have been together for 9-10 months. There have been times that Jalen and Ziv helped picked me up. Only 5 guys can play at a time and we have all been in the position and we all have to be supportive. When your name is called the next man has to be up. We all know how important they are to our team. In a different matchup it may be their chance.”
While Maccabi may have had issues with getting some of their veterans playing time, that was not the case for Hapoel Tel Aviv who would have loved to have had the riches available on the bench or not even dressed.
That was something that Reds coach Danny Franco indicated right off the bat as to what he sees as a serious necessity in order to properly compete.
“I’m very happy here and I really like the players. It’s important that I can help take Hapoel to the heights of Israeli basketball. We may have played shorthanded and we didn’t know what would be, but we wanted to defeat Maccabi Tel Aviv. Now we have to think about how we can improve and deal with the many injuries we had and improve upon our 7th place season. We were missing something and that was the story today.”
“We have to deal with our depth next season and it’s not as if we lost James Young before the series but it was during the series itself. We will take a good look at this season and see how we can go into next season in better shape.”
Captain Bar Timor who had an excellent season also spoke about the reasons as to why that was while also indicating that playing in Europe would be extremely beneficial and a goal that he would like to accomplish coming up next season.
“It wasn’t because of me the last few seasons before I arrived here. The past two years with Hapoel I’m very satisfied with and I can put my mark on it. We were close to winning the State Cup and that could have been huge for the club and its fans. But I can’t be that happy as to the way we finished the season, however, I want keep moving ahead.”
“We have to play in Europe and it’s not that important as to where but the Eurocup would be good and would give us a consistent schedule of games for some months. That is what we need to do in order to take a step forward. That would also improve our squad and that’s the next step that we need to make and I hope that we will. “
While Hapoel will now be jumping into next season, Maccabi will be getting ready for their best of 3 semifinals clash coming up against Bnei Herzliya which begins on Thursday at Yad Eliyahu.
Oren Aharoni’s club has been good, actually very good this past campaign and already have a State Cup to hang their hat on. They may have lost handily in both games on Maccabi’s home court but Chris Babb, Chinanu Onuaku and DJ Cooper will be plenty to handle.
“As for Bnei Herzliya, it’s not who we play, it depends on us being ready,” Williams said. “They are good players but we have a lot of good players on our team and when we are locked in, we can beat anyone.”
Even also looked ahead to the Yellow & Blue’s upcoming series and says that whatever was in the regular season can be tossed into the trash can, “When you go into a playoff game there is no influence on what happened in the past. Just as it was with Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Euroleague semifinals. The teams come more focused and even tougher than before.”