Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Hapoel Jerusalem 84-83 in the Winner Cup Final Preseason Tournament at the Holon Arena. Elijah Bryant led the Yellow & Blue scorers with 18 points, Omri Casspi chipped with 14 as Scottie Wilbekin added 11 points in the loss for Maccabi.
There were very few aspects of importance to this game for Maccabi. In fact I can find two; One was to give Quincy Acy game minutes as he hadn’t played in over week getting over an injury and to give Elijah Bryant some serious time on the floor to see how he would react to the pressure of a big game as the team heads into the 2019/20 Euroleague season.
After having played 5 games in 8 days which included contests in Athens against Panathinaikos and Milano, a Tel Aviv Derby, a matchup against a tough Nahariya team plus an Israeli Classico, Coach Sfairopoulos just wanted to finish this competition and get back to practice and preparation for a date in Moscow with Khimki.
Maccabi certainly wanted to win the final, there’s no question about that, but it wast going to be at a cost of getting ready for the continental campaign ahead. Could Sfairopoulos’s squad have fouled Jerusalem as the game was winding down? For sure. Could Maccabi have dressed Othello Hunter and not play Tarik Black 28 minutes? Yes, but like I said above, I believe getting Acy up to speed after being out and giving Bryant the keys to the car were critical for the week ahead.
There’s no question that Acy will be feature in the Euroleague and getting him on the floor for 15+ minutes will go a long way as Maccabi knows they need to open the season on the right foot. There’s no way Sfairopoulos can afford to begin the campaign the way that last year’s version did under Neven Spahija. With two road games on tap in Moscow and Madrid, the Yellow & Blue need to win at least one in order to come home to face Red Star and to potentially start the season 2-1 after their first three games.
The coach said this about Acy when I asked him in the press conference about his performance, “It was an issue for us to give him minutes after an injury. In order to give him minutes I had to take Othello Hunter out of the rotation. I think he responded really well after the injury and we expect that he will play really well and he is one of our man players. It’s good that he had this performance after being out as it will help him and help us going forward.”
A good start will be critical in order to have a chance to make it to the Top 8 and Sfairopoulos is fully aware of that.
The other highlight for me last night seeing Elijah Bryant playing serious time and being the main decision maker on the court. After having sat out last game with Tyler Dorsey getting an opportunity to play, the former Hapoel Eilat man clocked in with 29:23, going 6/9 from the field including 2 triples and 7 rebounds. On the minus side, Bryant had 4 turnovers to lead the team in that category.
Bryant has played tremendously well, perhaps better than expected including top notch defense which he really didn’t want to talk about last night, “I don’t think my performance matters if we don’t win as it’s a team game. I’m thinking about the two turnovers I had in the first period that led to not a good start. I want to go back and watch the clips to see where I can get better.”
With Bryant earning the trust of Sfairopoulos, even starting as the small forward, the coach has yet another weapon in his arsenal for the season ahead that can play multiple positions just like many other players on the roster.
Scottie Wilbekin, Nate Wolters, Elijah Bryant, Yovel Zoosman, Deni Avdija and John Dibartolomeo are all interchangeable pieces to the puzzle which will make Maccabi a very dangerous team going forward.
Speaking of Wilbekin, the guard is excited to get the continental season underway and put the loss to Jerusalem into perspective, “We can’t wait to get to the Euroleague. It’s a great league with great teams in the league, everyone’s professional and it’s the start of a new season. If we would have lost to Jerusalem in a Euroleague game, maybe (I’d be concerned that they lost to Khimki by 30 points). But I’m not worried about this, it doesn’t mean anything about us playing another Euroleague team.”
If you’re a Maccabi fan you’ve got to take the Winner Cup final with a grain of salt.
I know that Maccabi Chairman said that the Israeli League and State Cup are the bread and butter and he didn’t seem too happy after last night’s game to say the least, but let’s be honest, success in the Euroleague this season is of the utmost importance for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Coach Sfairopoulos and management.
The Yellow & Blue must play well, take their chances and reach the promised land once again because that is really where the meat and potatoes are.