After two weeks without basketball, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv's return to the court was a successful one beating Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 67:65 in a tight contest between two of the top-ranked teams in the Israeli Winner League. The win was significant for the Yellow & Blue as they clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with two games left in the top division. On Saturday, Maccabi will host Hapoel Holon (20:30) in Menora Mivtachim Arena for another top division clash.
Scottie Wilbekin (23 points) and Ante Zizic (17 points & 7 rebounds), who was dominant in the paint, scored a total of 40 out of the 67 points on what was an understandable off night offensively after the long two-week break. However, Sfairopoulos's group continued to show why they are the first ranked defense in the league, stopping the hosts on 65 points.
Giannis Sfairopoulos started with Scottie Wilbekin, Yovel Zoosman, Angelo Caloiaro, Omri Casspi, and Ante Zizic, as Avishai Gordon sent out Isaiah Cousins, Yiftach Ziv, Netanel Artzi, Jehyve Floyd, and Kerry Blackshear.
Casspi opened the contest with a hard slam after an assist from Wilbekin, the Israeli forward added two more points on a beautiful post move and found Wilbekin for a corner step-back triple, 7:4. Bender denied Artzi in the paint, T.J Cline recorded his first points of the night after grabbing an offensive board, while on the other end, Gil Benny and Ziv got the Reds offense going and gave them the lead after the last one laid in two high off the glass, 10:11.
Chris Jones found Zizic under the rim who powered home a two-handed slam, the guard added two from the charity strike as Ziv closed out the first ten minutes with a shot behind the arc, 16:16.
Zizic and Artzi exchanged buckets in the paint, Wilbekin completed a four-point possession after knocking down a three-pointer as he was fouled, and the Croatian big man gave the Yellow & Blue a 6 point edge after scoring 4 straight points, 27:21. Cousins was aggressive on both sides of the field, hitting a floater and, together with Artzi, who drilled a three brought Gilboa back, 28:28.
Zizic added on to his dominance in the paint scoring 6 of Maccabi's last 8 points of the quarter, while Avishai Gordon's squad converted six consecutive free throws, and Benny tied the game at 36 with a floater from the top of the key, 36:36 at halftime.
Caloiaro knocked down a three-pointer to open up the second half, Blackshear responded with one of his own, and Ziv dished an alley-oop assist to Floyd, who showed his athleticism and slammed it home, 39:42. Wilbekin got into a groove offensively, scoring 8 consecutive points, including two deep triples, and Jones spun his defender and laid in two completing an 11:0 run, 50:42.
Amit Gershon stopped the stretch and narrowed the lead down to 5 with a three-pointer as each team couldn't find the basket in the final 2 minutes of the third quarter, 50:45 heading into the last 10 minutes.
Bender and Caloiaro opened the quarter with shots from deep while Blackshear reached double figures after hitting from the free-throw line, and Ziv laid in two, keeping Gilboa in the thick of things, 56:49. Wilbekin drained multiple mid-range floaters, and Caloiaro drained his third triple of the night, giving Maccabi their first double-digit lead of the night, 61:49 midway through the quarter.
The Yellow & Blue top performers of the night, Wilbekin and Zizic, added on to the lead, but Avishai Gordon's unit didn't give up and went on a late run. Artzi started it with two straight buckets inside, Floyd added two dunks, and Blackshear's two consecutive buckets in the paint recorded 12 Red unanswered points, diminishing the lead all the way down to 2 with 17 seconds left on the game clock, 65:63.
Wilebkin stopped the run and secured the win after converting twice from the charity strike as Floyd added one last basket, which set the final score. Maccabi beat Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 67:65.