Johnny on the spot! O’Bryant’s unforgettable performance in Maccabi’s 94-92 win over Milano

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Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Milano 94-92 in arguably the best Euroleague this season. The contest went back and forth all night long but the Yellow & Blue were able to hold it together to take the 2-point victory. Johnny O’Bryant scored 32 points, went 5/7 from 3-point land, drew ten fouls and ended the evening with an efficiency rating of 44 points to lead Maccabi. In addition, O’Bryant went 7/8 from beyond the arc, had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals while Alex Tyus scored 16 points and pulled down 8 rebounds in the win. Milano featured 6 players in double digits including Nemanja Nedovic led Simone Pianigiani’s squad with 17 points, Mike James and Vladimir Micov chipped in with 16 points a piece while Jeff Brooks added 13 points in the loss.

Maccabi jumped out to a 7-2 lead with Kane dropping 5 quick points but Milano turned up the heat with a pair of smart Nedovic 3-pointers to give the visitor’s a 18-10 lead, forcing Sfairopoulus to call a timeout to settle his troops. Cohen hit a triple to stem the tide but Brooks made sure that Milano ended the first quarter with a 24-21 lead.

Roll and O’Bryant drilled home back-to-back three’s to give Maccabi a 29-26 lead but Tarczweski and a Nedovic three gave Milano a 37-34 advantage with 4:42 left in the half. The two squad’s went back and forth for the balance of the period with Tyus dropping 7 points and Wilbekin hitting a late triple to pull to within a pair of points 48-46 after twenty minutes.

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Wilbekin matched Micov with 5 points a piece in the first half of the third quarter but Maccabi still trailed 58-57. But O’Bryant nailed three triples and Wilbekin took the ball to the hoop to give the Yellow & Blue a 68-63 lead with 2:53 left in the frame. However, James helped the visitor’s claw back and punctuated the end of the quarter with a triple at the buzzer to knot the game up at 75-75 with ten minutes to go in regulation time.

Gudaitis and Kuzminskas found the basket to start the 4th quarter and give Milano a 79-75 lead as the Maccabi coach took a timeout to reorganize. Kane helped inch Maccabi closer with a layup but Gudaitis and James extended the lead to 83-78. O’Bryant drained a turnaround jumper on the baseline and then hit a 3-pointer giving him 30 points on the night, tying the game up at 83-83 with 5:24 left in the contest. Brooks gave Milano the lead with a jumper and Maccabi couldn’t score for four straight possessions until Caloiaro hit a triple from the corner to take a 91-89 lead. But Micov hit a bucket and one to retake the advantage 92-91. Tyus hit a pair of free throws and Ray added one to take a 94-92 with 19 seconds left in the game giving Milano one last chance to take the win. But Maccabi’s defense forced the ball to Brooks in the corner whose three point attempt rimmed in and out to give the Yellow & Blue the 94-92 win.

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3-Pointers
1) Johnny O’Bryant I. What can we say about him? He was an absolute rockstar on the floor tonight for Maccabi scoring 32 points and recording an efficiency rating of 44! Wilbekin spoke about #3’s performance, “He was unstoppable. We kept feeding him and he kept scoring and making the right decisions. It was fun to watch him out there.” Kane took a more fatherly figure approach to O’Bryant’s game, “Wow. Johnny’s a guy who can fill it up any night. We see it in practice and we know what he’s capable of, it’s up to him. He’s a little brother to me and I know what he can bring to the table, but it’s up to him. When he’s aggressive on defense his offense is better and he’s more locked in. I try to tell him that all the time, don’t lack on defense and think you’re going to score on offense cause it’s not going to happen. Today you’d seen it, he’s out there blocking shots, rebounding, get the ball and he’s in a rhythm to knock down the shot and that’s what he did today, he had a great game, amazing game.”

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2) Jonnny O’Bryant II. The Maccabi big man was very modest after the game and took a low key approach to his play while complimenting his squad, “My teammates trusted me to make plays and make shots and I can’t thank them enough. I got hot and hit shots. I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win.” Milano also featured a number of bigs who were vey physical over the 31+ minutes that O’Bryant was on the court, “They got some really good big guys and some 7 footers which were tough to deal with down there. It was a dog fight and we came out on top. I’m really proud of my team and we got to keep fighting.” Between O’Bryant’s 32 points and Alex Tyus’s 16 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks in roughly 30 minutes the two made Tarik Black’s absence feel negligible as the center was out with a fever. In fact, many will overlook Tyus’s performance because of O’Bryant’s career night, but truth be told #9 put in some very important minutes and the game winning free throws to give Maccabi the victory.

3) Johnny O’Bryant III. I asked Coach Sfairopoulos about giving O’Bryant the liberty and freedom to take shots and he spoke about that he not only wants O’Bryant to take the shot when he’s open but the same is true for all of his teammates, “It’s not only Johnny that I give him confidence and freedom to shoot the ball. I want every player who has a good option to shoot the ball after we’ve moved around the back and they are open to shoot the ball. Most of his options were not forced except maybe one or two which he missed and then I took him out to rest, concentrate himself and then go back again. I’m not the type of coach that says that says certain players shouldn’t shoot some players should shoot. I want the team to work together offensively to find the open player to shoot the ball. When you are open you need to shoot the ball. For sure when you are hot we push the game to those players and this is what happened with Johnny.”

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Overtime
Mike James. He almost signed with Maccabi over the summer but ended up choosing Milano and he played for Hapoel Galil Elyon back in 2013, so there was no question that he wasn’t going to try and show his worth back in Israel. It was DeAndre Kane who was tasked with shutting him down and even though he scored 16 points and 8 assists, the all world defender forced James out of his comfort zone, “Mike James is a great player. He’s going to miss and make shots and I wanted to make it as difficult as possible from the beginning of the game, not let him get comfortable and get to his spots and get easy shots. Our bigs did a great job when he came off of screens; Johnny, Jake, Alex and Angelo were there to help me fight back over to get back in front of him. It was a team effort, we really played great on defense today.”


Mike James himself wasn’t too happy with the refs last night and although he said Maccabi won fair and square he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t awarded at least a free throughout the contest. For the redord the zebras definitely let the players play but they did call an even game with Maccabi being called for 20 fouls and 16 free throws to Milan’s 19 fouls and 15 free throws.

I asked Coach Pianigiani about James and what he brings to the team (below) and he did not even mention that he felt that he didn’t get any calls. So Mike, relax. You can’t win them all.

And-1 and some
Coach Sfairopoulos also discussed how his team was able to stop James, “Even though Johnny scored 32 points it was the defense of DeAndre on James. He scored 16 points and had 8 assists but I think that a lot of times we disorganized their game and our defense was forcing them to do things that they weren’t in their habits. They had six players in double digits but the defense on him was important to keep the leader out of the crucial moments of the game and out of scoring. You saw we played good defense as Brooks took the last shot instead of James, Jerrells and Micov who are clutch shooters at the end.”

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Coach Pianigiani had kind words for James, “He’s a huge player for us. He has a winning mentality and he’s a generous guy. He’s always there for us. I used him a lot when Curtis Jerrells was out and then Nedovic was out for two months. Instead of three guards I had only one to create. He never gives up and even when he was tired he never gives up. I called him when I left Jerusalem and he said he was going to the NBA and we said maybe next year and now he’s here,”

Both coaches had something to say about Mike James and they also spoke about the game itself, “It was a great basketball game, really great,” explained Pianigiani. Sfairopoulos went one step further, “This was one of the best Euroleague games this season and one of the best basketball games between two very good teams.