Hapoel edges Maccabi in derby once again

Tel Aviv painted red after tight triumph • Cellar-dwellers Rishon and Eilat making moves

 HAPOEL TEL AVIV players celebrate on the court at the conclusion of their 78-77 victory over city rival Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israel Winner League derby on Sunday night. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
HAPOEL TEL AVIV players celebrate on the court at the conclusion of their 78-77 victory over city rival Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israel Winner League derby on Sunday night.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)

Hapoel Tel Aviv stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv 78-77 on Sunday night at the Drive-In Arena to win the big derby for the second time in as many months.

The Reds, who played the game without star guard J’Covan Brown, battled the yellow-and-blue possession by possession as their fans gave the team everything they had to will them to the shocking victory.

The win marked Hapoel’s fifth in a row as it moved up in the Israel Winner League standings with eight wins and six losses, while Maccabi dropped to the identical record.

JP Tokoto and James Young set the tone early on for Danny Franco’s team as the duo did the heavy lifting for the Reds all game and paced the home team with a combined 45 points throughout the 40 minutes.

Jake Cohen and John DiBartolomeo tried to keep Maccabi close with terrific second-half outside shooting, but missed free throws by Scottie Wilbekin in money time along with a potential game-winner that came up short sent Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad to a devastating loss ahead of a critical double game Euroleague week.

 IONNIS SFAIROPOULOS (left) and Scottie Wilbekin have had plenty of good times together with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but need to figure out how to halt the team's current slump. (credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY) IONNIS SFAIROPOULOS (left) and Scottie Wilbekin have had plenty of good times together with Maccabi Tel Aviv, but need to figure out how to halt the team's current slump. (credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Maccabi will now prepare for a Tuesday visit by ALBA Berlin, which features two Israelis in former yellow-and-blue swingman Yovel Zoosman and Tamir Blatt, and on Thursday it will welcome Fenerbahce from Turkey.

On Sunday, Tokoto scored 24 points, Young added 21 points and Bar Timor – who was credited with the winning basket – scored eight points for Hapoel in the victory.

Cohen scored 16 points for Maccabi while Wilbekin added 13 points and Ante Zizic chipped in with 12 points in the loss.

“This was a very intense game and it’s not just any type of game for the club,” said Franco. “This was a win where we battled and gave our lives for. We may not have played great basketball, but we played winning basketball. We won this game with our big hearts.”

Sfairopoulos was not as pleasant following the contest.

“It’s a bad loss and we wanted to win the game,” said the Maccabi coach. “The worst thing was our performance and I didn’t expect that we would play so badly. We missed some layups and free throws that were decisive and the last shot that was open and Hapoel won the game.”

Tokoto, the game’s MVP, also reflected on the win.

“We showed what we are capable of and what kind of team that we can be. It’s easier to get excited for the derby more than any other game in the season, but we have guys that are experienced enough to know how to win this game at the end.”

After a tight first half, Tokoto drained a triple at the buzzer to give Hapoel a 38-30 lead at the break, an advantage that was pared down to 62-58 after 30 minutes.

Maccabi started to mount a comeback as the fourth quarter got underway and tied up the game at 65-65 with seven minutes remaining.

Cohen dialed up long-distance once again from his sweet spot right above the key, DiBartolomeo did the same, but Young came right back with points to put Hapoel in front 76-74 with under a minute to go.

Zizic scored in the paint, but Timor did as well, while Wilbekin hit one of two from the line and then missed the potential game-winner in the paint as Hapoel won its second derby in a row.

Elsewhere, Maccabi Rishon Lezion downed Ness Ziona 79-68 to pick up its third win of the season and begin to claw out from the bottom of the standings.

Dror Cohen’s team was in full control throughout the 40 minutes as Tu Holloway had a spectacular game with 28 points, Anthony Brown added 20 points and Diamon Simpson soared 16 points in the win.

Diante Garrett led Ness Ziona with 20 points and Tal Dunne added 14 points in the loss.

In other news, Hapoel Eilat signed NBA veteran guard Toney Douglas to shore up its backcourt.