It was Yam Madar via knockout. The 2020 NBA Draft Prospect must have moved up even more places on the mock draft boards after another game in which he absolutely annihilated Maccabi Tel Aviv. In particular he basically outplayed the Yellow & Blue star guard Scottie Wilbekin who was ejected early in the third quarter (we’ll get to that in a bit) as well as potential lottery draft pick Deni Avdija who was held by the Hapoel defense to zero points, yes, zippo. Madar was all over the court, playing bulldog defense, hitting jumpers, floaters, reverse layups along with dishing out 6 assists to go along with his 22 points. Quite amazing. But it’s not only his play that has been impressive but how he has oodles and oodles of confidence and no fear at all. I asked his coach Ioannis Kastiritis, who is one of the most cool, calm and collected bench bosses I have encountered as to why Yam Madar and his team can look Maccabi right in the eye with no fear at all, “It’s the whole team. Everything is part of the process. This must happen in order to get better. At the end of the day it’s a game and the players need to enjoy it in a good way and give their best. We also understand that through our defense we can enjoy the game more.” Madar himself talked about the game as well, “We had to win in order to continue our season. I am always ready to play for the team first and I want to help my teammates in every which was I can. We have proved that we can stand toe to toe with Maccabi Tel Aviv.” Oh yes, Yam, you have proven that and in fact your team should already be in the semifinals awaiting the winner of the Hapoel Gilboa Galil and Hapoel Holon matchup.
2) Yes, you heard me right. Hapoel Tel Aviv should already be in the Final Four. It hasn’t been just Yam madar who has outplayed Maccabi Tel Aviv but the entire team from the first person on the roster to the last. Joaquin Szuchman, Tomer Ginat, Jordan Davis, Sek Henry, Daniel Cooperberg, Talib Zanna and on and on and on. The Reds lost the first game by a measly point in clash that they should have won outright but Maccabi made a big 4th quarter run to snatch the victory from the jaws of defeat. Tomer Ginat, who will be leaving to play in France after the season ends, spoke about how Hapoel just comes out to play and play hard from the get go with aggressive basketball from the tipoff, “This has been our tactics from the get go. We have a couple of new players in Davis and Zanna who give us some defensive power and that is truly our key. When we play aggressive on defense we can win.” Coach Kastritis also praised how his players performed on the defensive end, “We are very proud of them. We still have one more game we still need to stick with our plan. We need to continue to be intensive and even smarter. It’s all in our teamwork.
3) Maccabi Tel Aviv was just plain and simple awful once again. No energy out of the gate, no intensity, bad body language and just no answers. Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos was asked after that last how he was going to make sure his players didn’t come out asleep at the wheel i game two and he said they would be ready, well they definitely were not, not one bit, both physically and mentally. Jerusalem coach Oded Katash has been talking about the mental state of the players throughout the return after the break and you can see that Maccabi’s players are just not all there mentally starting with their leader Scottie Wilbekin. The guard had a rough first half and you could see how frustrated he was with the lack of foul calls which was in essence foreshadowing what was to come.
He walked out with 6:55 left in halftime to warm up and his body language was just bad, really, really bad. He slinked across the court to get ready and he was just not there, period. The 3rd period began and a non-foul call set him off, and set him badly as he cursed out the referee right in his face and earned a trip to the showers as he was thrown out of the game leaving his team to fend for themselves. A team that then lost Yovel Zoosman to a torn hamstring, leaving his team to fight alone. That is not the way your leader needs to react no matter what especially in a game that really they needed to win to get a few extra days off before the semifinals. Instead they will now play a game three on Thursday night with a very good chance to be eliminated by the arch-rivals something that hasn’t happened since the 1992 finals.
Wilbekin let his team down in a moment of frustration and needed to be able to control his emotions, especially in a playoff game with so much riding on the line. Now he may even be suspended for game 3 as he has a court date with the Israel Basketball Association at 13:30 on Thursday, just hours before the decisive contest. Can you imagine Maccabi losing Wilbekin to go along with Omri Casspi, Yovel Zoosman, Quincy Acy, John Dibartolomeo and Elijah Bryant? Not good, not good at all. Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos defended his star when we spoke to the media postgame but in fact he was laying down the excuses should Maccabi lose the series as well as trying to send a message to the referees, “I see one team playing hard and fighting hard. To me Scottie Wilbekin is one of the best Euroleague players, at a top level. To play against this defense for two games when they attack him with two or three players with zero free throws in both games, this is unacceptable. I believe that with this defense they should call more fouls.” The coach also spoke about the injury situation, “We are the Israeli team who has played the most games and we said that it would be very risky for injures and you saw that I was right.”
Is there a chance for Maccabi to right the ship? Is there still hope for the Yellow & Blue?Jake Cohen thinks so, “We are not playing to our potential and I as the captain got to get the guys going. Even though it’s 1-1 we are not happy with how we played. Luckily we got another one on Thursday to make it right.”
I guess we will see on Thursday night at 21:15. It should be interesting, very interesting.