Maccabi Tel Aviv moved tied with Hapoel Jerusalem at the summit of the BSL standings ahead of Saturday’s showdown for the No. 1 seed in the playoffs after beating Hapoel Tel Aviv 83-80 at Hadar Yosef Arena on Monday night.
However, Maccabi’s victory was marred by an ugly incident after center Sofoklis Schortsanitis stormed into the stands after the final buzzer in order to confront a Hapoel fan before being pulled into the dressing room by his teammates.
Sofo is expected to be penalized by the Israel Basketball Association and looks set to be suspended for multiple games.
The Greek center experienced a frustrating game, scoring eight points in just 11 minutes on court, missing all six of his free-throw attempts.
However, it remains unclear what caused such an experienced player like Sofo to lose his cool and climb into the stands looking to assault a fan. Sofo never managed to reach the Hapoel supporter he was chasing, but did trample over several bystanders, including the young child of Hapoel coach Erez Edelstein.
“I’ve played in many arenas in my career, but in Hadar Yosef all the fans do is curse you,” said Sofo.
There were plenty of talking points from the game itself before Sofo grabbed all the headlines, with Maccabi improving to a 20-6 record, just like Jerusalem, ahead of their clash at Malha Arena on Saturday.
Maccabi entered the derby on the back of its first losing streak of the BSL campaign, falling by two points at Maccabi Haifa last week after a 28-point humbling at the hands of Jerusalem.
A 20-2 run saw Hapoel take a 12-point margin (28-16) in the first quarter, but Maccabi never lost touch and eked out its third straight derby win after a tight second half.
Tyrese Rice led Maccabi with 15 points, while Alex Tyus and Yogev Ohayon added 13 points each.
“Hadar Yosef is a tough place to come to,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt, who added he didn’t see the Sofo incident. “The crowd is very energetic and aggressive and when you combine that with the fact that this was a derby than things get out of control.”
Raviv Limonad scored 18 points for Hapoel, extending his streak from the start of the season with at least 15 points to 21 games. Star guard Carlon Brown was held to 15 points.
Maccabi took an early six-point lead (12-6) following a Ricky Hickman three-pointer, but Hapoel dominated the remainder of the first period, opening a 12-point gap thanks to a 20-2 run (28-16).
Brown and Limonad found their range and Maccabi gifted Hapoel the initiative by committing nine turnovers in the first quarter alone.
Brown’s free throws gave the hosts a 28-16 margin, but Ohayon’s triple to end the frame brought Maccabi back within single digits (28-19) and the yellowand- blue continued to eat away at the deficit in the second quarter.
Maccabi closed to within four points (37-33), but Hapoel still had the initiative at the break after Vincent Council gave the hosts a 49-42 advantage with his buzzer- beating three.
However, Maccabi’s improved defense combined with Hapoel’s short bench saw the visitors move into the driving seat in the second half. An Ohayon triple gave the yellow-and-blue its first lead since the opening period (59-57) before a Council basket ensured there was nothing to separate the teams (59- 59) entering the final frame.
Devin Smith’s triple with 3:30 minutes to play put Maccabi in pole position (75-69). However, Hapoel closed to within only two points (77-75) with just over a minute remaining, only for Rice to clinch Maccabi’s win with a clutch basket before Sofo went berserk and completely ruined what should have been a sweet victory.