Hapoel Jerusalem outduels Maccabi Tel Aviv

Host Reds prevail over yellow-and-blue in blockbuster as coronavirus crowd-limitation rules bent.

HAPOEL JERUSALEM guard J’Covan Brown splits the Maccabi Tel Aviv defense during the Reds’ 98-87 home victory over the yellow-and-blue. March 8 2020. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
HAPOEL JERUSALEM guard J’Covan Brown splits the Maccabi Tel Aviv defense during the Reds’ 98-87 home victory over the yellow-and-blue. March 8 2020.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem overwhelmed Maccabi Tel Aviv 98-87 in the Israeli clasico on Sunday night that was played in front of just over 8,000 fans in the capital’s Pais Arena instead of a capacity crowd of 11,000 due to the Israeli Health Ministry’s regulations because of the Coronavirus outbreak.
J’Covan Brown and Shelvin Mack starred in the victory as the Reds hit their shots early and often as they went 9-of-10 from deep to jump out to a 39-27 lead after the first frame and never looked back to take the home win in dominating fashion.
Dr. Itamar Grotto, the Director-General of the Health Ministry had originally approved that only 5,000 fans would be allowed to attend the game. However, after coordinating with the league and the two teams, Dr. Grotto permitted the admittance of up to 9,000 fans due to the separation between the upper and lower bowls of the arena.
With a raucous crowd on hand, Brown led the way with 22 points and seven assists, Mack added 20 points, TaShawn Thomas chipped in with 19 points while Suleiman Braimoh notched 16 points in the conquest.
Scottie Wilbekin was Maccabi’s high scorer with 20 points and Othello Hunter scored 13 points in the loss.
Jerusalem coach Oded Katash spoke about the importance of the win over the club’s Israeli rival under the pale of the coronavirus.
“Hapoel Jerusalem is a club that will try to win all of the titles,” said Katash. “Although we didn’t have a full arena the fans really pushed us on. Hopefully games both domestically and in Europe will continue and we can get through this difficult situation. We are just trying to concentrate on what we can control which is playing basketball and we have an important game in the Champions League round-of-16 playoffs coming up on Wednesday in Athens.”
One of the stars of Sunday’s show, Mack, who played close to 500 NBA games reflected on this first Hapoel-Maccabi clash.
“The game was fun and it was very exciting to be part of the rivalry against Maccabi. Coach wanted us to come out, play aggressive and take our chances. We had a game plan and we were able to get our shots. It was good to be a part of the game.”
Maccabi captain Jake Cohen looked back at his squad’s defeat and the coronavirus with uncertainty.
“Very disappointing loss. We were punched in the mouth from the start and we were on our back foot. They took a big lead and we couldn’t come back. Of course, I have concerns about the virus, it’s something I’ve never experienced before. We are just trying to do our job and we are trying to do the best we can.”
Othello Hunter scored in the paint for Maccabi while Mack hit a triple for Jerusalem to get the duel under way at the Pais Arena.
Cohen and Wilbekin hit three-pointers, while Mack and Wilbekin traded shots from long distance as the yellow-and-blue took a 17-12 lead midway through the first quarter.
Thomas put in another pair of points, Wilbekin hit a floater in the lane and Yovel Zoosman scored a corner three as the frantic pace continued. Brown, Braimoh, James Feldeine and even center Idan Zalmanson drained triples as the Reds were scorching from beyond the arc to hold a 39-27 advantage after 10 minutes.
Mack began the second quarter with yet another three-pointer, while Thomas did what he does best and scored from inside as Jerusalem bumped up its lead to 44-29 with 6:41 remaining in the first half.
Thomas and Cohen exchanged baskets, Brown hit four straight free throws while Cohen answered for Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad, but Jerusalem stayed out front 50-38 with 2:46 left in the frame.
Braimoh hit an and-one over Zoosman, Zalmanson put in a layup and Brown hit a jumper as well as a triple from dead center as Katash’s crew took a 61-41 lead into the break.
Hunter and Deni Avdija notched the first baskets of the third quarter and Elijah Bryant added a triple, but Nimrod Levi drilled one from deep to keep Jerusalem ahead 66-48 midway through the frame.
Thomas continued his onslaught on the Maccabi basket with a pair of dunks, Braimoh and Mack hit free throws and Feldeine nailed a triple as Jerusalem went into the final frame up 82-60.
The fourth quarter got under way with a Thomas layup, Braimoh added one as well while Mack hit another three-pointer to get the Reds off and running once again.
Wilbekin scored a pair of triples and added a trio of free throws as Avdija scored from the outside also to help Maccabi cut the lead to 96-83 with 2:12 remaining in regulation.
Another driving layup by Avdija got the yellow-and-blue a bit closer, but time was not on Tel Aviv’s side as Jerusalem closed out the 11-point win.