Maccabi Tel Aviv kept their slim Euroleague playoff hopes alive with a huge 90-55 victory over Gran Canaria at Yad Eliyahu. The Yellow & Blue controlled the game from the tip and scored at will against a weak Canary Islands squad. Alex Tyus starred for Maccabi with 20 points and 6 rebounds, Scottie Wilbekin added 12 points, Johnny O’Bryant scored 11 points and grabbed 8 boards while Deni Avdija and Tarik Black each dropped 10 points in the win that featured 55 (!) rebounds. DJ Strawberry was the lone Gran Canaria player in double digits with 11 points in the loss.
Wilbekin from the outside and Black from the inside did the damage for Maccabi in the first quarter as they took a 21-9 lead after ten minutes of action. Tyus and Jake Cohen went to work with the Yellow & Blue’s second unit in the second quarter as Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad extended the advantage to 48-30 by halftime.
O’Bryant and Black supplied the offense while Avdija had his first minutes of the game in the 3rd quarter as Maccabi continued to stay out in front 64-45. The final frame became garbage time galore as Avdija hit double figures in points and the Yellow & Blue wrapped up a convincing 90-55 win to keep their playoff dream intact.
1) Maccabi Tel Aviv did what they had to do, beat Gran Canaria in their last home Euroleague game and now continue to pray that the teams that need to lose, lose. The victory was never in doubt as the Yellow & Blue pounded Pedro Martinez’s squad into oblivion and with Panathinaikos losing to Real Madrid coupled with Milano’s loss to a short handed Fenerbahce, Ioannis Sfairopoulos and his players can keep the dream alive for another week. Of course, there will still be games not only tonight, Friday but also next Thursday before they actually face Fenerbahce themselves next Friday night in a contest that may come down to, win and you’re in. Jake Cohen was upbeat following the victory, “It was a great win for us. We wanted to go out on a high note on the last regular season game and I had a lot of fun tonight.” Captain John DiBartolomeo also commented about the win, “The fans were great. They were loud and we fed off of their energy. We’re happy about this game.” The MVP of the game Alex Tyus punctuated the game by saying and praying, “We now have to on the next one. We just have to win and hopefully God will help us. We gave the fans something to remember of this season.”
2) However, I’m sure if the players look back at the season they will point out to one game in particular that should have, could have and would have been a win; the matchup against Gran Canaria on the road. At 8-21 and in 14th place, the game in the Canary Islands was there for the taking. But as the Yellow & Blue were struggling mightily in former coach Neven Spahjia’s last game, a trip to Spain is never good medicine, and beaten they were. There were certainly other close games that got away from the Zalgiris matchup last week to the first game of the season at Panathinaikos and from the loss to Baskonia at home to the defeat at Milano. All of the those games were winnable, but at the end of the day Maccabi would most probably need 16 wins to get in and at best they will end the campaign with 15 wins and a prayer. Cohen spoke about the what if, “There are so many variables and basketball is such a fickle game. Your whole season could be changed by one shot, one pass and one dribble. So to play the ‘what if’ game gets you nowhere. You have to focus on improving and getting better.” Captain John DiBartolomeo also commented on the what if, “That gets us nowhere. We’re happy with the win and we have to focus on the next game. Reminiscing about the past is not helpful right now.”
3) One of the highlights of the game was getting a chance to see Deni Avdija play 12+ minutes, score 10 points and take 5 rebounds. The up and coming star who is ticketed to be a lottery pick on the NBA 2020 draft had played in a youth game earlier in the day as well where he almost recorded a triple double. Coach Sfairopoulos was happy with his progress, “I’m very happy and he’s improving especially on his defense. That’s most important for me. He was good on both sides of the court. Everyone knows that we count on him and we want him to stay humble.” Avdija was all smiles after the win and thanked his teammates, “I have to give credit to my team for my performance and I want to continue that way. I’ve been working hard early mornings. All the guys set me up with good passes and I hope it keeps going like this. The best fans in the world are Maccabi.”
I asked Coach Sfairpoulos if he would have signed up for the opportunity to be heading into the last Euroleague game fighting for a place in the quarterfinals, “I would have signed on for that because I feel that we deserve this with the basketball we have played. We have won some important games; in Moscow for the first time since 2004 and we beat Panathinaikos in Israel for the first time in 4 years as well as Olympiacos at home, so we had big wins. Unfortunately, the players were under pressure from the first moment because we needed to win all of our games at home. It wasn’t easy and we beat the top teams in the standings, so I think we did as best as we could. I am happy we are still in business. We will fight to the end and we will see what will happen. I am happy as to how we responded and reacted after the bad start.”