Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Zalgiris Kaunas 81-74 thanks to a phenomenal effort by Norris Cole who scored 26 points to move their Euroleague record to 6-4. After a fairly even first quarter which saw the hosts sporting a 1-point 15-14 lead, the Yellow & Blue opened up a 10-point advantage 39-29 at the half. Maccabi extended their lead to 14-points, 65-51 after 30 minutes but Zalgiris went on a 10-0 run to start the final frame to come within only 4 of Neven Spahija’s squad 65-61. With both teams playing tough back and forth ball, Jonah Bolden hit a big 3-pointer with 1:52 left in the game to put Maccabi up 78-71 and never looked back to pick in the win. Along with Cole’s 26 points, Pierre Jackson dropped 12 points, while Deshaun Thomas, Alex Tyus and Art Parakhouski. Bolden added not only 6 points but also 10 rebounds, 5 steals, 4 assists and 4 blocked shots.
1) The word tough was used throughout the evening, in the press box, lockerroom and the press conference. Although Maccabi had been up by double digits throughout the game they needed to tough and grind out the win when it came down to crunch time. Zalgiris Coach and former Maccabi Star point guard Saras Jasikevicius spoke about how his team wasn’t tough enough and that Maccabi was tougher, while Jake Cohen used the word tough as well and referred to the last quarter, “A lot of things went against us and we could have just put our head down and let a bad thing get worse. But we fought back with a number of tough possessions and tough rebounds. We didn’t play perfect. But we bounced back. Zalgiris is a tough team and they won’t let you win without earning it. We worked hard for it.” Neven Spahija also commented on how he wanted to see his team react after last week’s blowout loss to Barcelona, “We are building a reputation here by fighting. That’s what is most important.”
2) Maccabi received solid efforts out of the center position last night from both Alex Tyus and Art Parakhouski from both a scoring and defensive standpoints. With 17 out of their 18 points coming in the first half, the big men set the tone early as they also added 5 blocks to their stat sheet. Once the tone was set, Norris Cole was able to take over and scored 19 second half points to help Maccabi take the W. Tyus spoke about the victory, “Good to get back on the winning track, defense, blocks, steals and being active. It was a good win. Well rounded game and we played well on both ends. You need to win the home games.” The often quiet Parakhouski also was in a good mood as he moved around the lockerroom, “We started aggressively and scored a bunch of points at the start because they gave us a chance to score. It was a good game and we played good defense.”
3) The Yellow & Blue shot well from long distance for what it seemed to be like the first time this campaign as they went 10/18, 55% from 3-point land. Cole went 4/6 while Roll went 2/3 from beyond the arc as Deandre Kane discussed the team’s shooting, “Our shot selection wasn’t bad over the past number of games, it’s just that the shots just weren’t going in. We practiced our shooting and we’re a team that has confidence shooting the 3.” Kane continued about the win, “Huge to get back on track in the Euroleague especially at home. Norris Cole had a huge game. It was a good team victory and it was good to see Art in his comfort zone. Great to have Jake back who gave us some huge minutes.”
Sunday night will feature the Israel Basketball Classico when Maccabi Tel Aviv travels to the capitol to face Hapoel Jerusalem. I asked a number of players about the upcoming contest that will as always be one of the hottest games of the country. Tyus said, “Always excited to play a rivalry game in the Israeli league. That’s part of the business.” Kane also commented, “We know how big that game is for the Maccabi fans and for us as well. We want to get the win and get the win for the fans. It will be a crazy environment and we’re looking forward to the challenge.” Parakhouski will be playing against his former team as well, “I’ll definitely be excited to go back to Jerusalem and I want to see how the crowd will be in their new arena.” Last but not least, Norris Cole didn’t quite realize that Jerusalem is a huge rivalry with Maccabi and he was actually quite surprised, “Really? I didn’t know that Jerusalem was a big rivalry, but we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get the win.”