Maccabi Tel Aviv walloped Maccabi Ashdod 114-82 at Yad Eliyahu as the yellow-and-blue will head into the Championship Playoffs in first place. It looked as if Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad didn’t lose a step over the break and got off to a hot start to take a 31-13 lead after the first quarter as NBA Draft Lottery Prospect Deni Avdija led the way. Things continued to go south for Amit Tamir’s side as the head coach who was making his Ashdod debut couldn’t find a way to stop or slow down Maccabi’s sharp shooters in the lopsided win.
Avdija led the way with 23 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists while adding a game high 32 efficiency rating. Tyler Dorsey added 19 points as the guard went 5/6 from beyond the arc, Scottie Wilbekin chipped in with 15 points and acting captain Jake Cohen scored 14 points in the win. Amit Ebo led the way for the port city side with 16 points in the loss.
Following the game Deni Avdija spoke about how he had worked on his fitness during the break: “I trained very hard and I wanted to get my body into even better shape, that was my goal. I’m happy with the results but that’s not the end of it. I’ve heard people are saying that I may be weak on the physical side and I took that really hard. It gave me motivation to build up by body strength and I also saw that I could improve other aspects of my game.”
The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery Prospect also looked back on Maccabi’s win over Maccabi Ashdod: “This was our first official game after the break. We still have to work a bit on our defense and get back to how we were doing things before the break. All in all I think we looked good and we have some great players. Each one of us knows our place and what we do best. We are a family. We will get back to playing our best as quickly as possible.”
Avdija knows how important the fans are to the success of the team: “Our fans mean everything to us. Of course we miss them but that’s the current situation and we aren’t looking at the glass as being half empty. We have to stay together and we have a great staff around us and I hope that will translate into wins.”
The future star also discussed the disappointment of ending the the European season and the club’s goals ahead domestically: “We want to end the season on a high note. Personally it’s upsetting that our European season ended on such a downer because we had such a good campaign and we fought so hard. We were all into it and it was very tough for me. But we are here to work hard and are motivated to take the title.”
How important is it for Avdija to take in the moment? “I’m enjoying the moment and I love being here with my teammates. My family is here and I will do as best as possible for the team. I am starving to win the title and end the year with that.”
Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos also spoke about the game that was: “We controlled the game from the beginning and scored 30 points in the first quarter. We had a productive day and we moved the ball which resulted in a lot of assists. we had open shots form outside and hit high percentages, so I was happy how we played offensively. Defensively we didn’t have a bad game and we kept Ashdod to low points in the first and third quarters. In general I am very happy with our performance.”
Thoughts on getting back to playing: “Basketball is our life and we get back to some sort of normalcy. But without fans isn’t easy for everybody and this isn’t the right conditions. I hope slowly but surely we will have fans back but that will be determined by the pandemic.”
About youngsters Dori Sahar and Yonatan Atias: “Dori Sahar is improving and working hard. The same for Yonatan Atias played a lot of minutes and they both have to work hard and stay humble. They will both have their chances.”
Sandy Cohen finally having the chance to play in the Israeli League: “It was very difficult for Sandy to play only one game a week and it’s hard for any player to have stability in their performance. Before the pandemic Sandy had some good games in Europe before the pandemic. We know what he can give, can improve a lot and has a lot to learn. He can keep practicing and working and he will continue to improve.”
Not having fans in the stands: “We miss our fans and the support of our fans. Maccabi and our fans go together always. Now that we don’t have them we have something inside that is missing. But the screens gives us the feeling that they are behind us.”
The disappointment of not ending the Euroleague season: “It is very difficult to explain how we felt when the Euroleague amounted that we wouldn’t play. We knew that it was difficult and I feel they made the right decision due to the pandemic. Israel is one country but the Euroleague has 18 teams in 10 countries that need to be coordinated. We are not satisfied and unhappy because we did continue a very good season and one that e made the playoffs for the first time in a very long time. Health is above all and there are countries that still have problems and you see how serious this is.”