Maccabi Tel Aviv came away with a big 79-63 home win over Khimki Moscow at Yad Eliyahu moving their Euroleague record to 4-9 as they now turn their sights on Zalgiris in Lithuania on Friday in a doubleheader week. Kendrick Ray sparked the Yellow & Blue with 17 points going 4/4 from 3, Scottie Wilbekin added 14 points and Michael Roll has an efficient 10 points and 5 assists in the victory. Jordan Mickey led Khimki with 15 points and Tony Crocker chipped in with 11 points in the loss.
The first quarter was a battle of attrition between the two side’s as Khimki took a 2-point 18-16 lead after ten minutes of play. The referees led by Luigi Lamonica continued to dictate the pace of play in the second quarter with constant stoppages on both sides of the court. However, Maccabi was able to take a 35-31 lead after twenty minutes thanks to Wilbekin’s 8 points as Mickey tried to keep the visitor’s close with 10 points in the half.
Maccabi came out flying to begin the third quarter and used stifling defense to allow Kendrick Ray to break open the game with 11 points in five minutes of play as the Yellow & Blue outscored Khimki 26-11 to take a commanding 61-52 lead into the final frame. Ray, Michael Roll and DeAndre Kane continued their fine play to keep the Russians at bay to take a 79-63 victory, keeping their playoff hopes alive for yet another day with a trip to Lithuania on tap for Friday night.
1) Kendrick Ray – YOU DAN MAN! How can you just not love this guy. Since Ioannis Sfairopoulos arrived at Maccabi, Ray has been a frequent contributor and a significant piece to the Yellow & Blue puzzle. Following the game Ray modestly spoke about his performance, “I just tried to come out there and give my team energy tonight and it worked to my favor. I got hot and it was my day.” his teammates only had praise for the guard beginning with captain John Dibartolomeo, “Kendrick was amazing. He broke the game open in the third quarter and he’s a great player. When he gets his opportunity he’s always ready. Hats off to him tonight, he was amazing.” Scottie Wilbekin also chimed in on #0’s play, “He played great. ISOs, catch and shoot, he was knocking everything down. It would be great for our team if he keeps playing like that.“ While DeAndre Kane heaped more words of praise, “For a guy that didn’t play at all in the first month at all and stuck with it. He never dropped his head. But when his number was called he came out and has been playing amazing for us. Give him a lot of credit for the win.” Finally Coach Sfairopoulos praised Ray’s contribution to the win, “Kendrick had a great day today. I don’t want to separate the team. But I want to say Kendrick is one of us. I’m happy he is with us even though he was thinking of leaving. I want him to play good defense and organize the team which he did today.” The only thing left now is when will Ray be registered for the Israeli league? Or will he ever be? How will Jeremy Pargo’s return change things up? Those questions will be answered as the season continues on.
2) Although Maccabi really put the game away in the third quarter, it was the second part of the second quarter where the Yellow & Blue began to separate from Khimki. Wilbekin was the main reason for the beginning of the end of Khimki as the star guard came into the game midway through the frame and rattled off 8 points and drew 3 fouls after going scoreless in 7 minutes in the first quarter. Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about the importance of Wilbekin’s fabulous play in that second frame, “It was very important. The players understand that on offense we were not very good, but when we find our rhythm we can explode. Scottie helped us make that run with all the players willing to fight. With took a small lead we were able to keep our concentration going into the second half.” Wilbekin himself also spoke about his performance, “It always feels good to get going especially when it comes quick like that. It keeps the energy up.“
3) The key to the victory was defense, plain and simple. Every player said that was the reason they won as did the coach. The Sports Rabbi MVP Kendrick Ray takes about the defensive aspect of the game, “We came out and focused on what we had to execute. Defensively we stepped it up in the second half and that opened up our offense. The refs are going to be the refs and we have to go out there and control what we can control. Dibartolomeo let us in as to what Sfairopoulos discussed at halftime, “We got together. The coach said to relax, play our game and play with confidence and play together and that’s what helped us going into the third quarter. Once we started to get stops things get a lot easier on both ends of the court.” Wilbekin echoed teammates sensibility “It always feels good to get going especially when it comes quick like that. It keeps the energy up. But the main reason we won was because of defense and I think in both halves we played good defense, but in the second half we were making more of our shots and we were able to extend our lead.” The defensive stalwart on the team, DeAndre Kane also chimed in, “We had a few games that we played good defensively but the teams just made tough shots. You can’t stop everybody and even play but this was up there as one of the top defensive games as a team. Guys flew around, dove on the floor and had each other’s back. Alex Tyus, Jake Cohen Tarik Black and those guys and Angelo Caloiaro they projected the rim and that’s what it’s about, helping a teammate and that’s how we want to play in the games going forward.”
Maccabi has a HUGE game in Lithuania coming up on Friday night when they take on Zalgiris. The Kaunas based side have struggled this season and are entering the contest with the Yellow & Blue after a 4 point, 75-71 win at Darussafaka in Turkey. Saras Jasikevičius and his squad were without Nate Wolters and Paulius Jankunas and it’s unknown if they will play against Maccabi. Just as it was with Khimki who didn’t have Alexey Shved and Anthony Gill at their service, Sfairopoulus may luck out and play Zalgiris without a couple of their leaders and stars. DeAndre Kane said after the game that the keys to winning in Lithuania will be as follows, “Enjoy tonight, get back tomorrow and watch film and go out there and try to get a win. Every game counts, we focused on this game as we will the next.”
And-1 & Some
* Before the game Maccabi honored two of their greats in former captain Derrick Sharp and Maceo Baston and they were met with a standing ovation by the crowd. The wanted a trip down memory lane and a game back from the two time back to back Euroleague winners and although it took a bit of time, they eventually got it.
* Maccabi was able to hold Khimki to just 1/13 from three over the first half while the Yellow & Blue went 6/13 over the first twenty minutes. Now that’s a game changer.
* There was an issue with Khimki’s foul count in the first quarter. Although they had picked up five fouls putting Maccabi into bonus, the scorers didn’t update the number properly on the scoreboard and the Yellow & Blue weren’t awarded bonus foul shots when they were supposed. Although Lamonica dictated the first half and it’s up to the scorers table to update, it’s inconceivable that he wasn’t aware of what we shall call his surroundings. I asked Coach Sfairopoulus about the situation when chairman Shimon Mizrahi went over to him to make sure he was aware that there had been a mistake and he said that, “Shimon wanted to make sure that they wrote that we had to get shots for the bonus and we ended up having to tell that to the refs. It was our mistake and we couldn’t go back.”