From Russia With Love – Khimki drops Maccabi Tel Aviv 89-83

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Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Khimki Moscow 89-83 as the Yellow & Blue opened up the Euroleague season with a loss in Russia. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team has trouble throughout the first three quarters as the hosts knocked down one 3-pointer after another shredding the Maccabi defense time and time again. The visitor’s mounted a furious comeback led by captain John Dibartolomeo’s guile and a trio of big man in Tarik Black, Quincy Acy and Othello Hunter but it was too little too late as Khimki was able to hold on for the win.

Alexey Shved was the high scorer with 22 points and 6 assists, Antony Gill added 18 points, Janis Timna drained 5 triples and ended the contest with 17 points and Jonas Jerebko returning to Europe from the NBA chipped in with 14 points and 7 rebounds for Khimki. Tarik Black scored 17 points, Omri Casspi put home 13 points while Othello Hunter added 11 points and 8 boards in the loss for Maccabi.

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Khimki opened the game up with a 7-3 lead as Omri Casspi scored Maccabi Tel Aviv’s first points of the season, but a steal by Yovel Zoosman and a triple by Elijah Bryant gave Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad a slim 8-7 lead after four minutes of action. Deni Avdija was the Yellow & Blue’s first substitute as he entered the game for Bryant while Tarik Black scored from inside the paint. However, with Zoosman on the bench, Maccabi’s perimeter defense suffered as Alexey Shved and Janis Timna got hot from the outside with a trio of 3-pointers to give Khimki a 25-21 advantage after ten minutes of action.

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Anthony Gill ripped off 7 points with the help of maestro Shved to increase Khimki’s lead to 34-25 three minutes into the second quarter forcing Sfairpoulos to call a timeout to settle his troops. Back to back baskets by Black and Casspi pulled Maccabi back to within 5 points with two minutes remaining in the frame, but Sergey Monia’s second shot from deep plus a bucket by Evans gave the hosts a 48-40 lead at halftime.

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Casspi and Scottie Wilbekin got busy early for Maccabi in the third quarter but once again the 3-balls kept dropping for Khimki as they continued to stay ahead 53-47 with 6:21 midway through the frame. With the Yellow & Blue threatening, Shved and Jonas Jerebko made sure to bring the lead up to 11 points midway through the period but three straight buckets by Maccabi punctuated by an Acy dunk brought the advantage back down to 4 points, 60-56 with under three minutes remaining in the quarter. However, an unsportsmanlike foul by Black led to 5 points from Jerebko and a 13-0 Khimki run to ultimately give Rimas Kurtinaitis’s side a 75-61 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

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Timna opened the final frame with yet another 3-pointer while Othello Hunter and Bryant countered to pull Maccabi to within 7 points, 82-75 halfway through the period. With the Khimki shooting going ice cold, the Yellow & Blue continued to plug away through Zoosman and Black but couldn’t find their way all the way back as they dropped the Euroleague opener 89-83.

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3-Pointers
1- Maccabi’s perimeter defense was an absolute mess for the majority of the game allowing Khimki many open shots which resulted in going 14/35 from beyond the arc while the Yellow & Blue themselves had a disastrous night from deep hitting only 4/22. I asked Coach Sfairpoulos about his team’s defensive troubles, “We tried to change the defense 2-3 times on them, but they have good shooters. We know that this is their game and we did not succeed to stop them defensively. From the other side I feel like we had a lot of open shots that we missed but having a better day for 2 points percentage was very good for this type of game, from outside having a better day would have given us better chances.”

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Yovel Zoosman discussed the team’s D, “This was our first Euroleague game and we have where to improve as we’ll continue to learn. This wasn’t our best game and we were anemic in the first quarter. We didn’t play well defensively in the third quarter, but we showed character in the 4th quarter but it wasn’t enough. You don’t have any control when a player hits a three over your head and we played very tight defense but when they hit those crazy shots, there’s nothing you can do.”

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2- Khimki certainly has good shooters. In fact they have oodles and oodles of them. Jonas Jerebko spoke about what it’s like to have a team that can consistently shoot lights out while also being a bit self critical about his own shots late in the game, “We got some great shooters on this team and shooters that are injured too so we are going to get better. I think we missed the ones that really counted, I had three at the end that I missed wide open in the last quarter.” Coach Kurtinaitis also echoed his big man’s comments while also looking at his own sharp shooter, We have good shooters and Alexei can create shots on his own and pass the ball.”

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2ASpeaking of Alexey Shved, he’s quite the player. He controls every aspect of the game when he’s on the court. Shved knows where to pass and when to pass. He knows where his teammates are at any moment. Whether driving into the paint and dishing it out for one of Timna’s five triples or getting the ball to Monia or any one of Khimki’s shooters. Shved’s deft ability to orchestrate an offense is a sight to behold.

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One of the players tasked with trying to contain good old #1 was Yovel Zoosman who described the experience “He’s a very good player and we focused on him and offensively we tried to out as much pressure on him as possible to ensure he wouldn’t be free. We tried to push him towards the left but it just didn’t work for us and he hit very difficult shots and had way too many free throws. I hope we learn from our mistakes and we understand what to do for the upcoming games.” Jerebko also chimed in about his new teammate, Alexey Shved, “He’s a great player that sets people up and makes people better. He’s a great teammate and we’re going to have a fun year this year.

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Nate Wolters had this to say about Shved, “They’re a good offensive team especially when Shved has the ball in his hands and he’s making plays for everyone else. But we got to do a better job closing out the perimeter and making those threes a little tougher.” Shved himself had this to say, “I just try to play every game and my teammates and coaches trust me. I missed a lot of shots today but I hope next game I will make more of them, but most importantly we won the game.

Shved spoke to The Sports Rabbi and had this to say following the game:
“We feel great and we have a stronger team this season and I know Jonas for a long time and we played against each other. We also have other guys too, Jeremy Evans and Devin Booker, we have a really great team and we just need more time to play even better.”

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About Maccabi’s second half defense:
Maccabi played great defense in the second half and we have to check what we need to improve because we can’t play like we did in the last quarter.

Playing one on one:
“I like playing one on one and they played good defense in me, but this is my first game and I just came back. I feel better but still not 100% I’ll try to get back to that as fast as possible.”

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3- “I think everyone needs to play better and I believe everyone can do much better. I expect that we will learn from this game. We are a new team that doesn’t have experience playing these games because we are young or because they came from the NBA so they need time to adjust.” This was a quote I received from Coach Sfairpoulos following the game when asked about Deni Avdija’s performance. I found it interesting that he spoke about young players and those coming over from the NBA. The truth of the matter is, Khimki looked good for the majority of the game but talk about players coming over from the NBA and those that are young is something that I’ve heard before. Who built the team? Wasn’t it known what the new roster’s composition would be? Is this the roster that the coach wanted? It seemed that Tyler Dorsey still needs time to adjust to the European style of play and John Dibartolomeo who is now in his third year in the Euroleague has better experience to offer and could have perhaps come in earlier in the game.

Overtime
The Sports Rabbi was able to speak with Jonas Jerebko in the lockerroom following Khimki’s wn. It’s incredible that he was just playing in the NBA Playoffs with the Golden State Warriors and here he is in the Euroleague, “It felt good to get the first win of the season. We made the game too close after the first 25 minutes, but it’s Euroleague and everyone is good and you can’t let them back like that.”

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The key moment of the game when Jerebko hit a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer after a Black unsportsmanlike foul in the 3rd quarter:
We broke it open in the third quarter and we probably felt a little too good. I don’t want to say we relaxed but they made a good run at it to come in the game, but we closed it out and it feels good.”

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Having fun:
“I feel great and I haven’t had this much fun in a while, it’s fun playing basketball and we have a great team that has a chance to do something special. We just have to keep working.”