Israeli hoopsters could actually use Sunday's Super League games in a promotional clip. Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Rishon Letzion got on court without their leading foreign guards, but Rishon's Israelis nonetheless led a heroic comeback before finally succumbing to Maccabi Tel Aviv. Hapoel Tel Aviv's local boys, meanwhile, could be proud of a glorious victory against Maccabi Ashdod that almost guarantees them a place in the playoff series.
Maccabi Tel Aviv's impressive second round in the Euro League Top 16 is overshadowed somewhat by the fact that David Blatt's team is incredibly vulnerable this season, even in the local league. Maccabi's weak points were plain to see, in Europe and Israel alike. Rishon's players were all over the offensive rebounds, and Maccabi's players missed again and again from the free throw line and the bench. They definitely left something to be desired; that much is certain.
In fact, Maccabi Tel Aviv's problems actually keep hope alive for other teams that believe they have a chance of snatching the trophy. It is there for the taking, though one wonders if any other club can really reach out and take it.
Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Holon are both worthwhile contenders for the title of this season's "cursed team." The amount of bad luck, injuries and malfunctions that plagued these two teams this season is enough to keep anyone else busy for three seasons. But in both cases, the teams' spirit prevailed. Holon's Dan Shamir managed to make it through the winter with a blanket of five and half players. And Erez Edelstein and Hapoel Tel Aviv could yet be the surprise of the playoffs.
Believe it or not, Hapoel Tel Aviv only had a full squad, with four foreign players, twice this season. In theory, with Brian Randle, Curtis Kelly, Anthony Goods and Demontez Stitt, the club should be able to boast one of the strongest opening five of the league. In practice, however, Hapoel rarely manages to get them all on court at the same time. Randle is back from injury, but now Stitt is out.
Hapoel beat Ashod thanks to its fighting spirit, its defense, and Bar Timor's charming winning mentality. Despite wearing the red stripe, Timor seems to have been brought up according to Maccabi Tel Aviv's winning values. In the last move of the game he succeeded in combining a quick grasp of the situation – there was a clear route to the basket – athleticism and mental clarity.
Timor's amazing winning basket, two seconds before the buzzer, might turn out to be the most important two points of the season: If it secures Hapoel Tel Aviv's place in the playoff series, you never knows what might happen if all its squad is healthy. The skies – red, in this case – could actually be the limit.
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