If anyone thought that Omri Casspi wasn’t going to be a factor for Maccabi Tel Aviv they were certainly mistaken as the ten year NBA veteran scored 18 points to lead the Yellow & Blue to a dominant 87-67 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Casspi was absolutely unstoppable on the evening that saw him play in his first Derby since the 2005/06 season. The Holon native glided around on the floor, scored in multiple fashions and provided leadership on the court to his new teammates. Along with his 18 points, Casspi pulled down 8 rebounds and finished the night with an efficiency rating of 30. Nate Wolters added 15 points, Yovel Zoosman chipped in with 11 points and 5 assists while Deni Avdija led the team in rebounds with 11. Tomer Ginat was Hapoel’s high scorer with 17 points and Demetrius Treadwell dropped 15 points in the loss.
Coach Sfairpoulos began with an Israeli experienced laden starting lineup as Jake Cohen took advantage of the opportunity and opened the scoring with 7 first quarter points while Nate Wolters added 5. Tomer Ginat countered with 9 points for Hapoel but the insertion of Casspi midway through the frame helped Maccabi to a 25-19 lead after ten minutes.
Hapoel youngster Yam Madar who recently starred for Israel at the U20 European Championship showed off his moves but Elijah Bryant and Casspi kept plugging away for Maccabi as the Yellow & Blue headed into halftime with a 47-36 advantage.
Yovel Zoosman opened up the second half strong for Maccabi but Malcolm Griffin and Demetrius Treadwell countered for Hapoel early on in the third quarter. However, Scottie Wilbekin who is in top form after playing with Turkey at the FIBA World Cup helped the Yellow & Blue extend their lead to 62-49 by the end of the frame. Maccabi rained 3’s to start the fourth quarter as Zoosman, Casspi and Wolters drilled the ball home from deep to run away with a twenty-point win, 87-67.
1) What we saw from Omri Casspi was exactly what we had all expected from him. He was mobile, quick, intense, aggressive and into the game. He looked like gold and played that wat too in only his third ever Derby! Think about that for a minute. Omri Casspi, arguably the greatest Israeli basketball player of all time had only played in 2 derbies prior to the Winner Cup Derby! I had to even confirm this with a colleague after checking the league website, I was in shock. His first two were played back in 2005/06 where he scored a grand total of 3 points in 12 minutes over the pair of contests. CRAZY! I asked him about the experience and his answer was low-key, thoughtful and to the point, “It was great to play in a Derby. The energy and atmosphere was good. I’m happy all in all as to how it went.”
2) Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos also spoke about Casspi’s first game back in Israel, “You know Casspi better than me, but remember when we signed him I said he I was very happy to sign him because I believed in him and what he can give to the team. That is what he gave tonight, the extra push. We have to remember he is playing after an injury and hasn’t played since Januray. He is a big time player and we knew what he can do. All of us, you me, everybody, It was just a matter of time.” Casspi himself talked about how he felt physically as well, “I feel good and I want to be ready for the season. It’s a long season and we have a few more preseason games. We played well defensively but we still have plenty to work on but all in all our game play was fine. We want to continue to improve and prepare for our first Euroleague game next week.” He also mentioned the fact that although the derby may have been his time to shine, there are plenty of other players who can step up at any time, “We have a deep roster and although today was my day we have plenty of weapons such as Tarik Black, Scottie Wilbekin and many others. But each game has its own energy.”
3) We were able to see the present and future of Israeli basketball on the court in the Derby with the likes of Omri Casspi and Deni Avdija. So let’s see what the Coach had to say about Avdija, “Like I said last year to build a core of Israeli players and Deni Avdija is playing more this year and I am counting on him more. Why? Because he is practicing with us from the beginning of the year. Last year he was in and out and in and out with a lot of obligations. Whether it was juniors, school, cadets, NBA camp. But now he is more focused on the team and I am very happy. The more he will play the more he will produce both defensively and offensively. Today he had 11 rebounds and I am very happy about this. I don’t care if he scores points or doesn’t score points he led the team and I am very happy about that just as Zoosman led the team with 5 assists and had a great second half. Not just defending but he scored 11 points. We want to build a core of Israeli players and I am happy I have these players here this season.”
Hapoel Tel Aviv looked majorly overmatched and the only players that held their own were Treadwell and Ginat. Joazquin Szuchman fouled out, Rodney Purvis was ineffective and Malcolm Griffin didn’t have a great shooting night. Ariel Beit Halachmi has plenty of work to do in order to match up with Maccabi and this game was a good litmus test for his team.