Hapoel Holon solidified their position in first place with a 100-95 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv. Holon used a 35 point 2nd quarter to effectively take control of the game and pick up the victory. Corey Walden starred again for the hosts with 26 points and 5 assists, Dequan Jones dropped 22 points and Guy Pnini added 15 points and 7 assists in the win. Jeremy Pargo led Maccabi with 18 points and Angelo Caloiaro chipped in with 16 points in the defeat.
Playing without Scottie Wilbekin who was out with an illness, Maccabi grabbed a 27-16 after ten minutes thanks to three triples by Pargo and seven points by Black as the yellow-and-blue dominated the first frame. However, that’s where Maccabi’s domination ended as Dequan Jones dropped 12 points and Walden scored 10 to spark a 35-point second quarter for Holon as they took a 51-43 lead into halftime. Roll and Black helped Maccabi cut the Holon lead to 73-67 after thirty minutes of action but another Jones three from the corner coupled with the continued fabulous play by Walden cancelled out the yellow-and-blue’s short lived comeback midway through the 4th quarter to record a 100-95 win.
1) Hapoel Holon was superb and basically killed the game in the second quarter with a dominant 35 point frame as they pushed Maccabi to the limit. Credit to Corey Walden who has been superb for Holon the entire season and with him now back after attending to a family issue in the United States, he’s back and ready to go. His coach Dan Shamir spoke about the attributes which he brings to the game, “It’s great to be able to talk about Corey because he’s such a special player. I’ve always said even when he’s not at his best that he is one of my most favorite all time players to coach in my career. You don’t meet many people like Corey, who play with their heart and gives everything for the team. Sometimes when he has some poor performances it’s because he’s such a good person. He has shown how good a player he is time after time and I am happy he feels comfortable playing here and can show how he can excel.”
2) His sidekick coming off the bench Dequan Jones was also fabulous. Jones hit some huge shots including a triple from the corner to help Holon retake the lead in the 4th quarter. With some big games coming up, Nanterre on Tuesday for the last spot in the Champions League Round of 16 plus a State Cup semifinal clash on Monday against Jerusalem in the capital, Holon trying to take the season one game at a time but have also been looking ahead. Jones was all smiles at the post game press conference, “This was big for us as we gained momentum going into the next week. We always say that we should take one game at a time, but we had this marked on our calendars and we came out and executed.”
3) Maccabi Tel Aviv may have led after ten minutes as it looked like the Yellow & Blue were going to demolish Holon as they did in the first round but poor play across the board by many of Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s players did Maccabi in. One player who did shoot the ball well in that first quarter was Jeremy Pargo and I asked him about the issues Maccabi had in the last few games including a double OT win over Ashdod and a blowout loss to Baskonia, “Ashdod was a win. A win is a win. If we win by half a point would you take it? Yep. We talked about things that we needed to improve. Baskonia really outplayed us and they made some really tough shots and easy ones as well. So we have to come out playing better defense. We have to also be more aggressive on offense. We have to continue to get better and now we have a couple of days of practice to get ready for Thursday.”
With Maccabi struggling mightily in the first third of the Euroleague season it was clear that some new blood was needed. After Deandre Kane’s injury it was clear that new blood was needed and after Nimrod Levi’s departure, it was clear that new blood was needed. Sure Maccabi got Pargo back who had been injured but they still needed a bit more. There were too many inconsistencies with the squad and maybe the huge effort put into the past month and a half in the Euroleague to get back to “normal” just took too much out of Maccabi. There is no shame in that, but if Maccabi was seriously trying to get into the Top 8 and punch their ticket for a quarterfinal series, the team needed to do more. When you look at the other teams , especially Milano who just added James Nunnally while also making other adjustments in their effort to take a playoff spot, Maccabi has stood pat and done nothing. That is concerning. Are they serious in wanting to get into the Top 8? I asked the coach about that exact issue and he hemmed and hawed without clearly answering the question a showed a bit of uncertainly and was unconvincing to say the least. It looked as if he didn’t have much faith in the answer that he did give, “This roster is a fighting roster and when I came here I believed that with this roster that we could go to the Euroleague playoffs. As you remember we changed the picture on the court. We played good in January and now this period we aren’t practicing a lot as we are playing 5 games in ten days and the metal preparation is not easy. This is a winning team and we need to play to win all pf the games. We now have two days to practice until Thursday and we haven’t had that chance since we had all the games. We will fight against Olympiacos and I believe that with current roster that we have we can go to the playoffs.”