Maccabi Tel Aviv captured its 56th Israel Winner League championship by defeating Hapoel Tel Aviv 94-90 on Tuesday night to complete a dramatic 2-1 series victory.
Lorenzo Brown led the way for the yellow-and-blue from the outset, while Wade Baldwin, who was named the series MVP, played an integral part in the victory, with each scoring 22 points in the clincher.
Maccabi, which had won Game 1 comfortably at home, was thrashed by 38 points in Game 2 which set up a winner-take-all third game. Oded Katash’s squad came out strong as Lorenzo Brown and Baldwin worked their magic to give Maccabi a slim 26-23 lead after 10 minutes.
But J’Covan Brown started to heat up for Danny Franco’s Hapoel team, which stayed within striking range and trailed 42-38 at halftime.
Baldwin and Roman Sorkin came into the third quarter on a mission and built up the Maccabi lead to double digits after 30 minutes, but a 17-0 run orchestrated by J’Covan Brown, Tomer Ginat and Xavier Munford gave the Reds an 85-83 advantage with 2:49 remaining.
However, Baldwin came up huge with a triple and a quartet of free throws to go along with a pair from the line by Lorenzo Brown, allowing Maccabi to retake the and take home the championship.
Along with the 22 points, Lorenzo Brown added seven assists while Baldwin chipped in with eight helpers as Sorkin scored 13 points in the win. J’Covan Brown led all scorers with 31 points and dished out eight assists, Ginat scored 14 points and Munford scored 13 points for Hapoel in the loss.
The crowning moment of an intense season
“It was crazy, it’s a great feeling,” an excited Katash said following the game. “We went through a long and intense season that went all the way to the last minute, it was just going to end that way. It was our character that helped us win and it wasn’t going to end easily, but we had to show that character. I don’t remember Hapoel being so good even when I was a player. We began the game slowly and then got into a rhythm, but when they went on that run we showed our character and I am so proud. It’s the character of the players that made this season so special.”
“It’s hard to sum it up after a game like this,” Franco began after his team’s tough defeat. “We didn’t play well defensively in the third quarter and allowed Maccabi to create. When Maccabi had the lead, we believed that we could come back. You could see it on the players on the floor that they believed. We came into this game believing that we could win and the game was probably the best of the series as we were able to keep our cool. It was the small things, though, that decided the game. We made it to the last day of the season and that is something that I would have signed on for in the summer. We have to keep building Hapoel Tel Aviv to be a stronger team.”
Baldwin also spoke about winning the championship.
“The job is done, we won the league. We hit two-thirds of the goals that we set at the start of the season. Next year all three of our goals have to be met. We will regroup over the summer and have a good one. We lost by 40 in the second game and the next day we were silent, but we came in locked in today. It was amazing!”
Hapoel’s Ginat reflected on the game.
“The home court is huge but we were in this game all the way. They made one or two more plays at the end of the game and we missed out. I think Hapoel Tel Aviv this season was able to do something special. To be in the position to win on the last possession of a championship is something really great, but it’s too bad we were there but just missed out. It’s painful.”
Security was on high alert before the game
The atmosphere around the arena was tense as police and security personnel were posted at every corner and entrance to the facility. Every fan was frisked and bags were checked as there was going to be no chances taken on this night for a repeat of some of the extracurricular activities that took place in Game 1 and Game 2.
From Jordan McRae to Jake Cohen it didn’t matter if you were Red or yellow-and-blue, you weren’t going to be able to enter through the glass doors at gate 9 without going through a head-to-toe check.
Fans from both teams packed the stands singing at the top of their lungs and waving flags as the music blared from the sound system at the highest volume throughout Yad Eliyahu. Everyone waited to see if Hapoel Tel Aviv fans would light flares at the tip-off, however, to everyone’s amazement it didn’t occur, at least just then. At the one-minute mark, however, the upper level area where the Reds supporters were sitting lit up with flares.
A number of sports websites in the Holy Land had written about Lorenzo Brown being a choker in big games, but the Maccabi guard put that to bed very quickly in the first quarter with 11 points including a 3-pointer to finish off the frame in fine fashion to give his side the three-point advantage.
Bonzie Colson and Jaylen Hoard traded baskets to open the second quarter and John DiBartolomeo went from deep but J’Covan Brown went from the inside and the outside to knot the score up at 31-31 with five minutes to go in the first half.
DiBartolomeo drilled one from the corner, J’Covan Brown once again went from downtown, while Ginat and Idan Zalmanson scored. Rafi Menco went from deep and Lorenzo Brown added a deuce to give Oded Katash’s squad a slim halftime advantage.
If Lorenzo Brown was the man in the first quarter, it was J’Covan Brown who put numbers up for Hapoel Tel Aviv in the second quarter, whether it was from downtown or from inside the arc. However, while the “Red” Brown did his damage, it was the “yellow-and-blue” Brown who scored the last points of the second quarter just as he did the first.
Lorenzo Brown began the third quarter just as he finished off the previous one with points, Alex Poythress dunked and then put down an alley-oop from Baldwin while the guard himself went from downtown as did Colson.
J’Covan Brown came back with points but so did Sorkin to keep Maccabi ahead 57-48 midway through the frame. J’Covan Brown put in another layup, Sorkin scored in the paint, Baldwin dunked, Munford went from deep, Sorkin and Baldwin found points as did Lorenzo Brown to put Maccabi in front by 11 heading into the final frame.
Both Baldwin and Sorkin had been quiet for a half of play, but they woke up after the break with oodles of points, rebounds and assists as they helped Maccabi begin to break away.
However, J’Covan Brown and McRae scored for Franco’s team while Poythress and Colson did the same for Katash’s squad to get the fourth quarter under way. But baskets by Bar Timor and more points from J’Covan Brown and Ginat capped off a 17-0 run to give Hapoel a two-point lead with under three minutes left in regulation time.
However, Baldwin took over for Maccabi, and while McRae nailed a tough 3-pointer to keep Hapoel close, fittingly it was Lorenzo Brown who scored a pair from the charity stripe to wrap up the title.