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“To be a winner is to work hard and improve every day; it’s to be humble and to give 100% every night” – Deni Avdija’s career night leads Maccabi Tel Aviv to a 94-83 win over Hapoel Holon

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Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Holon 94-83 as the yellow-and-blue improved their Israel Winner League record time a perfect 14-0. Deni Avdija was dominant all game as he earned MVP honors with a 22 point, 5 assist, 4 rebound and two blocked shot performance for Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad as Tyler Dorsey added 17 points and Quincy Acy and Othello Hunter each dropped 14 points in the win. Marcus Foster was almost unstoppable for Holon with 27 points in the defeat.

Both teams looked a bit rusty out of the box as Guy Pnini helped Hapoel Holon to a 6-4 lead midway through the first quarter. But Tyler Dorsey with a pair of 3-pointers along with a triple and bucket by Deni Avdija gave Maccabi Tel Aviv a 18-12 lead after ten minutes.

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Avdija opened the second quarter with a power move in the paint for two points but Ryan Thompson and Troy Caupain tried to keep Holon close as the Yellow & Blue stayed ahead 25-18 with five minutes to play in the frame. Avdija continued to score for Maccabi from the outside as he drilled home another triple and dished out assists as well while Caupain and Marcus Foster found the bottom of the basket for the hosts but Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad 39-33 advantage at halftime.

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A game Foster came out on fire for Holon to start the third quarter but Elijah Bryant and Quincy Acy quickly put out the blaze as Maccabi increased their lead to 51-41 midway through the frame. Zoosman hit a 3-pointer and Avdija dropped a layup over TJ Cline plus hit a pair of triples as Foster kept scoring for Stefanos Dedas’s team but the visitors took a 10-point, 68-58 lead into the final quarter.

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Foster scored his 4th 3-pointer of the game, but a pair of Othello Hunter dunks gave Maccabi 75-63 advantage with 5:47 left in the fourth quarter. Cline and Bryant traded triples but Cline hit a floater over Bryant, Shlomi Harush dropped a layup and Yogev Ohayon nailed a 3-pointed to pull Holon to within 80-73-70 with three minutes to go. However, back to back dunks by Hunter and Avdija and an Acy jam right before time expired put the exclamation mark on a 94-83 victory.

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3-Pointers
1) Deni Avdija, a potential 2020 NBA Lottery pick showed everyone exactly why he is sitting at #5 in the ESPN Mock Draft and #6 in The Athletic’s as the budding superstar scored 22 points, dished out 5 assists, grabbed 4 rebounds good for an efficiency rating of 27 in a hotly charged contest at the Holon Arena. #8 continues to improve as each game and as each day goes by whether it’s his outside shooting (4/7 from 3) his passing with a career high or just his physical play in the paint being able to push around veteran players at will and score inside. Guard Elijah Bryant commented about what he saw from Avdija, “He put on a low post clinic. He’s been putting in the work and he’s really a great player with a lot of talent. He did really well tonight.”

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2A) There’s no question that Avdija is Israel’s best basketball prodigy and he’s proving why he will also be a legitimate NBA player. He has all the tools plus he’s got a winning attitude; he wants to win every single time he steps onto the floor no matter who the opponent is. I asked Avdija what the definition of a winner is, “To be a winner is to work hard and improve every day whether it’s in the Israeli league or Euroleague or any other game. It’s to be humble and to give 100% every night even if it’s 20 games in a row. For me it’s to come to play to win, that is what a winner is.” Bottom line is whether you like it or not, Deni Avdija is a winner.

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2B) “Deni is a talented played and there is no doubt about this,” Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos said at the post game press conference. “He has a big future in front of him but he needs to stay humble and continue to work hard step by step. I believe he will have a very big future.” Avdija will most definitely have a great future as he continues on his upward arc and as the NBA gets closer and closer. But one of the amazing things that Avdija and Sfairopoulos have is a relationship that keeps them both on the same page. Last week, the coach said straight out when asked about if the NBA general managers and scouts in attendance influence his decisions on how he plays Avdija, he said that his concern is winning for Maccabi Tel Aviv and not the NBA, a comment that was 110% correct. Avdija backed up his coach as well, “I support the coach 100% on this matter. I think he’s correct not to focus on where I will be in the draft if it’s #50 or #2. His job is to be the coach of Maccabi, win games and win titles. My job is to help him achieve these goals and win. I listen to what he needs, what he says and I am with him through thick or thin.”

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3) To really understand Deni Avdija, what he is made of and where is mindset is, one just needs to hear how polished, professional and proactive he is when questioned about the victory over Holon. He began by speaking about his attitude on the court, “I’m young and it’s my third year at Maccabi and things never come easy. I never hang my head if there are games that I am less involved and there are some tough times but I never let this affect me. I keep gaining confidence and although I had a good game, it’s just one game.” Avdija showed plenty of emotion on the court in arguably his best game as a professional. But I would also say it was controlled emotions which is yet another quality that the NBA brass will be looking for, “I can tell you that I am a player with a lot of emotions whether you can see it or not. Any time that you can play a game like this your emotions come out because this is in essence the first game that you have played with complete confidence.” Another quality Avdija possesses is that he can play multiple positions and although he had played primarily the small forward position this season he played the point for plenty of minutes against Holon and dished out 5 assists as a true floor general, “It’s fun to play the point, but I don’t have a preferred position and any position that I am asked to play I will do so with the best of my abilities, I’ll enjoy playing any position no matter what.” As Avdija continued to put up point after point, the Holon fans became more and more vocal with their jeering, “I’ll take it as a compliment that the opposing teams fans are cursing me. What would you rather, that no one says a word and that you’re ignored? I take this as motivation and that it’s good. At some point it’s also funny to hear it as well, it’s part of the game and it’s just fun.”

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Overtime
Holon played a tough game but came up short in a number of statistical categories that cost them. Shooting 13/25 from the free throw line and 8/30 from behind the arc isn’t going to cut it if a team wants to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv. Add to that only committing 7 fouls through almost three quarters doesn’t really give you much of a chance to win. Holon Coach Stefanos Dedas spoke about how challenging it is to win against the Yellow & Blue, “This was a game I expected. We had some moments when we struggled but we also had our moments when we looked good and were equal on the floor. But when you shoot 50% from the free throw line and 26% from beyond the arc you can’t win against Maccabi unless they had a very bad day.” Forward TJ Cline also spoke about the lack of hitting shots, “Games like that happen and we got to get better shots. We have to have better structure in the floor. If you are going to beat this team you have to knock down our shots.”

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Despite Holon just not making the shots they needed to, Coach Dedas was definitely happy with the effort his team is giving and how that will translate on the court, “The guys fought on the court but we still don’t have the quality for 40 minutes. We will meet them again and I want to see improvement the next time we play Maccabi.” The coach also discussed what he sees as the most important thing for him to keep moving towards his goal of improving, “I’m working all the time on the combination of the lineups as I try not to put certain players with others. If it’s players who can score from the outside, the inside or both. Although some of my lineups may look strange I am always trying to find the right rotation that will be able to hide our weakness. The combination of the lineup is my main concern.”

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And-Ones
A) Nate Wolters made his return to the court after an injury that kept him on the shelf for a month and a half. He made played a bit on Thursday at Alba Berlin and played close to 20 minutes against Holon as he looks to get back to his pre-injury form. Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about the guard’s comeback, “Nate is coming back after an injury and we are working with him really well as the staff does with all the players. I am happy that we have this group of professionals. Nate is getting back to his game rhythm and I’m happy that he is getting better game by game.” Elijah Bryant also talked about the challenge that Wolters will have as he tries to get back into form, “It was good to have Nate back and he’s trying to find his rhythm. It’s hard to come back after a long time and to find his rhythm. We support him and we’re glad to have him.”

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B) It’s never easy to come back to play an Israeli league game 48 hours after playing a road game in the Euroleague and with two top notch contests coming up against Barcelona and Milano. Coach Sfairopoulos was very complimentary of his players that they were able to do just that and take a hard fought victory, “The players need to be given credit for winning on the road after an away victory in the Euroleague. After the first few minutes we controlled the game. Holon is a good team that can score in various ways but we attacked smart and scored some easy baskets. Elijah Bryant also talked about the victory against a quality Holon team, “It was a fun win. We did some good things and things we need to work on but we got a win and that’s all that matters. It’s basketball which is a game of runs. They have some talented players and we were able to match their talent and get a win.”

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