Yellow-and-blue nets 54th championship

Harrison and Rishon Lezion put up a valiant fight, but Amar’e and Mac TA too strong in final

FINALS MVP Amar’e Stoudemire celebrates on court with the trophy after helping lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to an 86-81 victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Tuesday night at Yad Eliyahu as the yellow-and-blue captured the championship (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
FINALS MVP Amar’e Stoudemire celebrates on court with the trophy after helping lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to an 86-81 victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Tuesday night at Yad Eliyahu as the yellow-and-blue captured the championship
Maccabi Tel Aviv captured its 54th Israel Basketball League championship by defeating Maccabi Rishon Lezion 86-81 on Tuesday night at Yad Eliyahu.
The yellow-and-blue used inside power from MVP Amar’e Stoudemire and Othello Hunter to dominate the paint as Maccabi was able to neutralize D’Angelo Harrison’s record-setting 38-point performance to win the title.
Stoudemire and Hunter each scored 18 points, Sandy Cohen recorded his career high with 16 points and Tyler Dorsey added 14 points in the victory. Harrison scored 38, Oz Blayzer chipped in with 13 points and Alex Hamilton dropped 11 points for Rishon in the loss.
“It feels great,” said Stoudemire. “You know a championship is a big fulfillment, you train for it, prepare for it, work hard and go through ups and downs. The championship trophy is the ultimate goal. To be 37 years old and play high level basketball is a real blessing… to be around these young guys and keep up.”
Maccabi coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos reflected on the victory.
“This is the medal for Maccabi, this is for the Maccabi spirit and the fans who support us,” said the 53-year-old Greek national. “We know that their spirit and positive thinking pushed us to this win. We are very thankful to them and they did an amazing job pushing the team all season.”
Rishon coach Guy Goodes was proud of his team, even in a losing cause.
“It’s very hard to have to chase in a final especially with a short roster,” explained Goodes. “The first half was a knockout and Maccabi hit us hard out of the gate. It was very difficult for us to put aside the difficult first half. Even coming back in the second half just wasn’t enough. The first half did us in.”
The game’s top scorer, Harrison, talked about the effort his team showed.
“It wasn’t enough and we let them come out with a lot of energy,” said the 26-year-old American guard. “They showed who they are and we didn’t have a response until it was too late. We were there at the end and that’s all you can really ask for.”
Tel Aviv and Rishon came into Tuesday’s tip-off both looking to end the prolonged season with the championship plate. The Winner League suspended play back in March with the outbreak of the coronavirus, but returned to action three months later with a shortened third round of games and playoffs.
Prior to the game, Maccabi Tel Aviv swingman and NBA Draft lottery prospect Deni Avdija, 19, was named the league’s season MVP becoming the youngest player ever to win the award.
The yellow-and-blue punched its ticket to the final after a 81-78 victory over upstart Hapoel Gilboa/Galil thanks to a Scottie Wilbekin triple with 2.7 seconds left in the semifinal game. Rishon advanced to the championship contest with a dramatic 100-97 win against Hapoel Jerusalem, a game that saw Adam Ariel nail an off-balance corner three-pointer as time expired to set up a rematch of last season’s title match.
Sfairopoulos’s crew looked to win its third title in a row and featured Avdija – who was playing in his final game for the club before heading to the NBA – Wilbekin, Dorsey, Stoudemire and Hunter. Goodes’s team, which last took home the title in 2016 countered with Harrison, Hamilton, Ariel, Blayzer and Zach Hankins.
Hunter opened the scoring with an uncharacteristic midrange jumper from the big man, Stoudemire put in a layup and Angelo Caloiaro hit a corner three, but Blayzer and Harrison answered for Rishon as Maccabi led 9-8 midway through the first quarter.
Avdija found nothing but net with a triple from the left elbow, Hunter downed back-to-back dunks, Dorsey scored for deep twice as Harrison had a trio of three-pointers, but the yellow-and-blue led 29-21 after 10 minutes.
Stoudemire began the second quarter with a monster slam and Dorsey drained yet another three-pointer before Blayzer got to work for Rishon. However, another triple by Dorsey gave Sfairopoulos’s team a 41-31 lead with 5:03 left in the first half.
Sandy Cohen got into the act from long distance with three triples, Hunter scored a play up while Hamilton tried to keep Goodes’s team relevant, but Maccabi took a 54-36 advantage into halftime.
Rishon began cutting the Maccabi lead with a three-pointer by Ariel, a floater by Darryl Monroe and an off-balance layup to bring the score to 58-46 midway through the third quarter. Caloiaro scored off a Wilbekin miss, Sandy Cohen drilled his fourth triple of the game and made a jumper in the paint for Maccabi as Harrison scored at will, but a pair of Hunter dunks gave the yellow-and-blue a 69-59 lead after 30 minutes of play.
Jake Cohen scored his first basket of the game for Maccabi in the fourth quarter, but Hamilton and Harrison found the bottom of the basket for Rishon to cut the lead to 71-63 with 7:31 remaining in regulation.
Harrison scored another layup and a hit a triple while Blayzer was left unattended under the basket as Rishon inched closer (75-70) with 3:45 left in the final frame. Stoudemire scored inside twice, but a catch-and-shoot triple by Blayzer, a three-pointer by Harrison and yet another basket form behind the arc from Ariel brought the score to 82-79 with 1:01 left on the clock.
Harrison hit a pair of free throws while Amar’e did the same at the other end, but Harrison missed a layup and Hunter ripped the rebound out of Hankins’s hands as Wilbekin scored from the charity stripe to wrap up the yellow-and-blue’s 54th Israel league championship.