Maccabi Tel Aviv, Jerusalem in tough playoff battles

Yellow-and-blue can’t close out derby quarterfinal vs Hapoel • Capital Reds have hands full with Gilboa

  IDAN ZALMANSON (20) and Hapoel Tel Aviv players celebrate after their 93-75 victory over city rival Maccabi Tel Aviv in Game 3 of their best-of-five quarterfinal series. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
IDAN ZALMANSON (20) and Hapoel Tel Aviv players celebrate after their 93-75 victory over city rival Maccabi Tel Aviv in Game 3 of their best-of-five quarterfinal series.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)

With the Israel basketball playoffs off and running, Hapoel Jerusalem will look to take a 2-1 series lead when it tips off Friday afternoon at home against Hapoel Gilboa/Galil while Hapoel Tel Aviv stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv in Game 3 to stay alive in their tilt and will try to even it up at 2-2 on Sunday in what could be an epic matchup.

Jerusalem may have fallen in Game 1 at the Pais Arena in the capital, but came back strong to demolish Gilboa 96-61 in the second game of their best-of-five series that was held up in Gan Ner earlier on the week. The Reds will now attempt to take a stranglehold on Friday afternoon back at home.

Guy Kaplan’s team may be without star guard London Perrantes, after he suffered what looked to be a serious leg injury, while Gilboa has already been without the services of Tyus Battle, giving the Reds a huge competitive advantage with their much deeper roster.

Yotam Halperin’s squad came out flying from the jump ball in Game 2 with stifling defense and fluid offense to snatch a quick 32-12 advantage after the first quarter. From there, they rolled to the dominant win that featured five players in double digits, with Adam Ariel, Jalen Adams, John Egbunu, Willy Workman and Retin Obasohan leading the way.

There’s no question that the 88-85 loss in Game 1 got Jerusalem’s attention very quickly and set off warning lights that if the regular season No. 1 seed wanted to go deep into the playoffs, it would need to give over 100% focus, intensity and aggressiveness.

“It’s clear that we came into the game as we should,” Halperin said. “We were dominant from the start and that gave us the push to keep going. We didn’t do anything really different ahead of the game after last week’s loss, but players who want to be at the top of their game have to come into each contest at the top of their mental capacity.

“We had a letdown in the first game in every parameter and in Game 2 we regained our confidence. We finished in first place overall in order to have [a] home-court advantage and we all took responsibility to make sure we had a good game. Best-of-five series have a lot of character and a lot of swings, which is the beauty of a series.”

Kaplan also shared his thoughts on the direction of the series.

“Every game has its own life and while we won in Jerusalem they defeated us here,” said the Gilboa coach. “We had to keep to the game plan and try to do the best we can. Before the series started, we knew that we had depth issues and it was no secret, but we have to find a way to compete as it’s clear that on paper Jerusalem is superior.”

Jerusalem’s Egbunu also reflected on the win.

“Last game was a disappointing loss for us and it’s a long series. We came out aggressive and we always want to protect home court. Last game we didn’t do that and we understood that and we didn’t want that to happen again.”

Over in Tel Aviv in the quarterfinal derby series, Hapoel demolished Maccabi 93-75 to stave off elimination in Game 3 and stay alive to the delight of the fans. The victory gave Danny Franco’s team some life after falling into a 0-2 hole after the first two games of the series, which will now head back to the Drive-In Arena for Game 4.

The shorthanded Reds pummeled the yellow-and-blue from the get-go as Bar Timor with a career night and Idan Zalmanson picked up the slack for injured James Young and J’Covan Brown, who was taken to the hospital in the second quarter after taking a hit to his neck.

Derrick Williams cut the Hapoel lead to just nine points (50-41) with a lucky heave at the halftime buzzer, however, Timor, Zalmanson and JP Tokoto continued the onslaught in the third quarter as Maccabi’s defense was nowhere to be found and let Hapoel run away with the 18-point win.

Game MVP Bar Timor scored 26 points, Tokoto added 18 points and Zalmanson scored 15 points in the victory.

John Dibartolomeo paced Avi Even’s team with 18 points while Keenan Evans and James Nunnally scored 12 points apiece in the loss.

A red-hot atmosphere is expected for Game 4 at the Drive-In Arena on Sunday night as Franco’s squad will attempt to even up the series with the support of its home fans, who will put a tremendous amount of pressure on Avi Even’s team.

“I have a lot of pride from this game after the disappointment of the first two,” said Franco. “We had a rough couple of months and things hadn’t been going our way. This was a win that we battled for and I can say all of the cliches, but everyone took a step up as we won this game altogether.”

“We lost and we didn’t come to play the way we wanted to and planned to,” said Even, the disappointed Maccabi bench boss. “Hapoel came with aggressiveness and they beat us in all parameters. We had to bring our energy and intensity and unfortunately, we weren’t able to capitalize on the momentum and our quality at both ends of the floor. We will come into the next game with a different attitude to win.”

Reds’ big man Zalmanson reflected on the victory.

“We have a team that is tough to break, even when we were down 0-2 in this series. We knew that this game would be difficult without James Young and everyone played a part. We are a team with character and I can guarantee that we will leave everything on the court. This series isn’t over.”

Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo spoke about the game from his point of view.

“It’s a disappointing and frustrating night for us and it was a shame as to how we performed. A lot of our issues are beyond basketball which are the things we really need to focus on. When that film session ends, we need to be on to the next game. We’re up 2-1 and we need one more win or move onto the next round and that’s our ultimate goal.”