Hapoel Jerusalem beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 71:79 on Sunday to win the Winner's Cup, thanks to a wonderful game by Speedy Smith who stood out with 21 points. After the events that took place in the semi-final and in protest of the conduct of the police, the yellow and red fan organizations boycotted the game, but even in their absence, the fans who came and filled the hall provided a wonderful atmosphere for the match, forgetting for a moment that this was a preparatory game in early October and not a playoff game.
After a yellow-dominated first half, in the third quarter Smith, Aleksandar Dzikic's man for the decisive moments, stepped in and led an impressive offensive display to lead a red zone run with 2:16 left that turned the game around. Yuval Zussman, who met his ex from Tel Aviv for the first time in a red uniform, displayed lukewarm ability for 39 minutes but scored a critical three that decided the match and gave the signal for the first red celebrations of the season in the stands.
"It's just another game for us and we're trying to find ways to improve the team. Anyway, it was a good game for us and we managed to win, but in the end it was just another game on our way of connecting," shared Smith, who was named player of the tournament. "I'm proud of my team for what we've done here, we've tried to look for ways to win this game and we've succeeded, but we're not ready enough for this season yet. We have a long way to go and three more titles to win."
Smith celebrates, yesterday at the drive-in, photo: Alan Shaver
The end of the Winner's Cup also marked the end of the pre-season chapter for Jerusalemites, who had already registered 11 preparatory games, as a direct lesson from the beginning of the previous season, when they rarely performed preparatory games and did not leave the country.
Team captain LeVay Randolph added: "The coach's message in the second half was that we need to gather our energy and play better defensively. Maccabi has a lot of good players, so I'm proud of my teammates for always coming to compete and very happy that we won. It just makes us hungrier, we're probably not satisfied with that, we'll work hard every day to get better and better." In conclusion, the captain joked: "I still have to learn exactly what you do when you lift the trophy, Oz Blazer taught me a little, but I will continue to practice it for the next title."
On the other side, Maccabi Tel Aviv wanted to avoid injuries ahead of the start of the Euroleague season this Thursday, when Oded Katsch's pupils will host Partizan Belgrade. Unfortunately for the coach, Wade Baldwin was cut from the squad in warm-ups due to back pain, and in the second half Josh Nivo also went down to the dressing room with pain in his leg, which did not add to the pressure gauge on the yellow bench. The situation of the two worries the professional staff of the Yellows, who hope to be able to play in the Euroleague opener. "I hope it's not too serious. Wade locked his back right before the game, hoping he'll be okay. We come into the Euroleague season a bit short, missing two players who get injured during a game. On Thursday we start the season and we have to look a lot better," Ketch said.
Jake Cohen added: "Wade and Josh are important players for us and hopefully they will be available on Thursday," the forward continued. "For me, we have more confidence this season that no matter what happens, we can get out of it. We have guys with great character. I'm excited for the season. We have talented players with good character."
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