Maccabi Tel Aviv looks to rebound in State Cup

After disheartening defeat at home to Red Star Belgrade in Euroleague, yellow-and-blue takes on Ness Ziona in local semifinals

 WADE BALDWIN scored 38 points for Maccabi Tel Aviv in its 89-86 Euroleague loss to Red Star Belgrade ahead of tonight’s Israel State Cup semifinal against Ness Ziona. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
WADE BALDWIN scored 38 points for Maccabi Tel Aviv in its 89-86 Euroleague loss to Red Star Belgrade ahead of tonight’s Israel State Cup semifinal against Ness Ziona.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)

While Maccabi Tel Aviv is licking its wounds following a thoroughly disappointing 89-86 home loss to Red Star Belgrade in Euroleague action over the weekend, the yellow-and-blue right now has to refocus and ready for its next challenge on tap in what will hopefully be a busy week ahead.

With the Israel State Cup Final Four about to descend on Jerusalem’s Pais Arena, Oded Katash’s squad has some pretty big fish to fry with the first title of the season up for grabs. Maccabi will take on Ironi  Ness Ziona in Monday night’s first semifinal while Hapoel Jerusalem will host Hapoel Haifa in the nightcap in what will surely be a super display and celebration of Israeli basketball.

Quest for another trophy

Katash, who won a pair of State Cups with Hapoel Jerusalem in 2019 and 2020, will look to add another piece of hardware to his trophy case this time with Maccabi in a venue that he is not only very familiar with but won his fair share of games in.

However, there are a number of big questions surrounding the yellow-and-blue as it prepares to tip off against Ness Ziona.

Will star guard Lorenzo Brown be available after having been out of action for a couple of weeks with an injury? And can Maccabi recover quickly from a brutal continental loss in front of its faithful just a few days ago?

Lorenzo Brown's play and leadership has been perhaps the key factor in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s recent resurgence after a subpar start to the season. (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)Lorenzo Brown's play and leadership has been perhaps the key factor in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s recent resurgence after a subpar start to the season. (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

Wade Baldwin, who set the Maccabi Tel Aviv Euroleague record for most points in a game with 38 against Belgrade, was superb and almost single-handedly helped the club to a victory that it had no business even being close to sniffing after a poor display against the Serbian squad. In a game that Katash was unable to jumpstart his team against Dusko Ivanovic’s charges, Baldwin was able to take the bull by the horns and he helped will Maccabi all the way back into a contest in which it had been down by 16 points on a number of occasions.

“I think Red Star was the tougher team and they dominated us on the boards, in the paint for 34 minutes of the game,” Baldwin said after the game. “Our engine in the last six minutes of the games is how we should have played from the start. We are fighting for playoff position and this is a tough loss.

“But I am happy that we made it a game after being down 16 multiple times as it’s easy to give up. I’m happy we found a way to compete until the end and it came down to a free-throw match and they made it.”

Katash understands that the game itself was lost much earlier on.

“Even though we came back from 16 points down and we had a chance to win the game, we lost it in the first half. We were too nervous, they controlled the game both offensively and defensively and we had a plan but we couldn’t execute it. They made many easy baskets and in the second half they punished us on the offensive rebounds.”

Brown, who inked a three-year extension with the yellow-and-blue just prior to the Red Star clash, was supposed to already be back for Katash, but he was’t 100% and the bench boss hopes that he will be in the lineup on Monday for the State Cup semifinal.

“We have been dealing with injured players for some time and the need to have Brown back in the lineup is clear. We don’t know if he will play [in the State Cup] and the plan originally was for him to play against Red Star. We hope he will be fine but he felt some pain just ahead of the game and hopefully he will be OK for Monday.”

Baldwin, who has taken most of the offensive load and point guard duties in Brown’s absence, has filled in admirably but he is also well aware that having the Eurobasket champion back in the lineup will be helpful to not just him but for the entire team. From his comments, it looks likely that Brown will be available but the final decision will only be closer to game time.

Brown might be available

“The whole team needs a guy like Lorenzo,” said Balwin. “He has been the best player on the team the entire season. He is a very important player for us and we are going to need everybody, battling some injuries but that’s every team in the league and it’s no excuse. You can’t not smile having Lorenzo back – that’s as good as it gets.”

Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo has been a part of the State Cup festivities on numerous occasions, but has only captured the prize just once back in 2020 and despite falling to Red Star, the guard feels that the club is well prepared in knowing how to handle multiple games during a short period of time.

“It’s not new for us to be playing a couple of games in a week. We understand each game is its own and unfortunately we lost this one. When we prepare for the cup we have to get over it, but it’s not forgotten as we have to learn from it. We need to come into the State Cup with full focus, full energy and full attention to detail.”

Katash also looked ahead to the State Cup after the tough defeat.

“We need to recover from the loss. We have a very important task – we’re coming into a week which is critical if we want to fulfill our goals for this year. We need to recover quickly and raise our heads, which isn’t easy to do, but we’ll do it.”

As the season hits February, Baldwin knows that this is the proverbial money-time month of the campaign and wants to see Maccabi make the most out of the opportunity.

“This is the chance to compete for three titles. The cup title, the Euroleague title and the Israeli league championship title. This is one step in order to receive our first title of the year and it’s important. The stretch in February and March is the heart of the season – this is it. This is where the teams separate and teams progress and teams digress.

“We have to keep pushing, but I’m really happy as to how we ended this game. We fought until the end and we did not give up. That takes a lot of heart and a lot of passion and I want that to carry on for the remainder of the season, because we are capable of doing that. Each game is very different and the cup game is a totally different game than this one. We will continue to switch gears mentally and we will find a way to win games.”