Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Maccabi Ashdod 76-73 and advanced to the Israel State Cup Finals on Thursday night. Ashdod controlled the flow of the game throughout with solid fundamental basketball out-rebounding Maccabi 47-37 (Alex Chubrovich 18p/18r for Ashdod) pulling down 17 offensive boards in the process while keeping the Yellow & Blue’s shooting percentage to under 39%. However, it would not be enough to stem a 12-0 Maccabi run midway through the 4th quarter that turned a 65-57 Ashdod lead into a 69-65 advantage for the Neven Spahija-less side after the coach was ejected for arguing with the referees. Norris Cole (7p) hit a three off a pick and roll to give Maccabi a 72-68 with 38 seconds left but Cameron Long (16p) drained a 3 of his own 4 seconds later to pull within 1 points, 72-71. Then it was Pierre Jackson’s turn to show his worth on an off night (3/11 from the field, 7p) as the point guard drilled a 3 off another pick and roll with Adam Ariel in his face to close out the show and punch their ticket to the finals. John DiBartolomeo led Maccabi with 18 points while Jake Cohen finished the night with 13. Sek Henry scored 16 points going 7/18 including 2/10 from long distance.
Hapoel Holon led by Glen Rice Jr. beat Hapoel Jerusalem 76-67 in the second semifinal to send Dan Shamir’s squad into the finals. Holon jumped out to a 26-19 lead after 10 minutes, but a poor second frame gave Jerusalem a slim one point advantage, 37-36 after the second quarter. With the Reds ahead 44-38 early in the third quarter, Holon went on a 18-4 run to take a 56-48 lead after 30 minutes and effectively put the game out of reach. Rice dropped a big 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in an MVP performance while Guy Pnini and Tu Holloway each scored 12 points in the victory. Lucas Kalin and Jerome Dyson led Jerusalem in scoring with 18 and 17 points respectively.
1) Glen Rice Jr. is the best player in Israel this season hands down. He is an absolute force on the floor and is a phenomenal ball player in every respect. He can score at will, defend, rip down rebounds and will his team to a win as we’ve seen numerous times this season already. However, he’s not an easy customer and picked up a technical foul, but as his coach Dan Shamir said in the press conference when asked what’s more difficult, to play against him or play with him, the answer was unquestionably playing against him. He’s fun to watch, entertaining and you just never know what he might do, for the good and the not so good. Regardless he’s a must watch talent and players with his level of play don’t often end up in the Holy Land.
2) Ashdod played an excellent basketball game up until Neven Spahija was ejected; yes you heard right when the Maccabi Tel Aviv coached was shown an early exit it was as if his players woke up from their slumber and came back to take the lead and the game over Brad Greenberg’s squad. I asked Greenberg what he could have done to stop the Maccabi run and he pushed the envelope onto his players while giving the caveat of Maccabi doing what they needed to get the win, “We had one turnover very late down one in the open court; certainly would have liked to get a shot on that possession. When you have possession inside a minute and a chance to take the lead and you can’t get the ball out of the back court it hurts. We missed some free throws, that hurt. They made some shots and the shot that Jackson made, Adam (Ariel) fouled him on, that was a killer basket. They made their shots when they needed to and put defensive pressure on us when they needed to.” I was a bit surprised with the coach’s response and I thought that perhaps he could have done something to keep his team in the lead, but ultimately it was not to be. The loss clearly hurts and he knows that this was a missed opportunity.
3) Where to start. Hapoel Jerusalem is a disaster zone. From the on court personnel to the off court ones, this season is not looking the way that owner Ori Allon and CEO Guy Harel wanted to see it. From the hiring and firing of Coach Fotis Katsikaris, to the release of Curtis Jerrells and Austin Daye and from Tarrence Kinsey’s injury status to Mody Maor’s inexperience as a Head Coach there’s no question that this campaign will not go down as one to be remembered. But there is something wrong, very wrong with the Reds. There seems to be no passion, poor decision making and no direction. This is not the team that Allon wants to see as his ultimate goal is to move Jerusalem into the Euroleague. So many questions were asked of Maor and we were given so few answers. Why didn’t captain and veteran guard Yotam Halperin not play one minute? Rich Howell and Stratos Perperologou were effective when Jerusalem held the lead on the 3rd quarter but they were subbed out after just 4:30 and were replaced by Lior Eliyahu and Ronald Roberts who were both struggling and had recorded double digits in the +/- category. The answers we received ranged from this was my decision to we had a rotation and I needed to put a Israeli on when I took Rich off. I’ve sat in many Maor press conferences this season and each one is roughly the same as the one prior. No straight answers and lots of questions.
Maccabi Tel Aviv needed a wake up call in the 4th quarter as the game began slipping away and they got one in Spahija being ejected for arguing with the referees. I dare think what would have happened of he didn’t get ejected. With the Yellow & Blue shooting pitifully all night long they were able to somehow pull out the win and set themselves up for a chance to win their 9th State Cup in a row. Credit must go to Guy Goodes for taking over the reins and being able to make the right calls and also getting clutch shooting form Cole and Jackson. After an off night, both will need to be at the top of their games on Thursday night in order to stop Rice and crew. I’m sure both will be looking to see how the matchup against Dan Shamir’s star, but they better keep their egos in check and remember that Basketball ultimately isa team game. They’ll need to play as a team to defeat the individual talent.