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The issues: Mental toughness & Consistency

Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Malaga 89-78 at Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv to finish the first round of Euroleague games with an 8-7 record. The Yellow & Blue held a 8 point advantage after 20 minutes, 47-39 as Norris Cole led the way with 11 first half points (16 overall) while Art Parakhouski added 8 points (15 overall) and Karam Mashour pulled down 5 boards. Jeff Brooks was the offensive force for the visitors over the first half scoring 14 of his 18 points to keep Malaga within striking distance. However, the second half was a totally different story as Malaga outscored Maccabi 22-11 in the 3rd quarter and 28-20 in the final frame to take the win as Nemanja Nedovic dropped 14 points (20 points overall) over the last 20 minutes. Girorgi Shermadini added 11 of his 15 points in the second half while Ray McCallum dropped 8 of his 15 also in half number 2. The Spaniards controlled the boards by a 47-38 advantage, went 12/25 from long distance while Maccabi only shot 11/20 from the free throw line.

3-Pointers
1) After a terrific first half, Maccabi came out flat in the third quarter, getting outscored 22-11 and paid the price of losing a game that not only should they have won but may also haunt them down the line. Michael Roll commented on the 3rd quarter, “They played well and we gave up too many offensive rebounds in the 3rd quarter. That was a dictator of the game and we didn’t execute really well.” Norris Cole also looked at the third frame as well, “We didn’t get off to a good start and the ball wasn’t falling for us and they played well. They outplayed us.” Art Parakhouski was a bit more blunt about what went on after halftime, “We lost control in the 3rd quarter and our goal was to control the defensive boards, but they took 16 offensive rebounds and that gave them second chances which they were able to convert. They started to feel comfortable, we got nervous and we miscommunicated on defense.” Finally I believe that Coach Neven Spahija described it best, “We couldn’t make shots and the 3rd quarter was tough to watch.” Yes, it certainly was, it certainly was.

2) If you had analyzed Malaga this season, you would have known that they like to shoot the 3, control the offensive boards while having played good basketball winning their last three Euroleague games. So nothing they were going to throw at Maccabi was going to be a surprise. Coach Spahija spoke about that at the pregame press conference and also after the game, however, it came down to execution according to a number of players as Roll was the first to express that to me right after the game in the locker room, “Nothing caught us by surprise. We watched a lot of film and we knew they were good players. We didn’t execute.” Cole’s comments were on the same line, “I wasn’t surprised. The coaches do a good job putting together the scouting report for us. It was just a matter of executing and we didn’t execute and they capitalized on that.” While Art said the same thing, “We weren’t surprised. The coach prepared us and told us exactly what to do, but we just didn’t do it today.” It all came down to execution and Maccabi couldn’t over the last twenty minutes. These games are the ones that separate the men from the boys.

3) Coach Spahija was shocked by the +/- of his starters (Bolden, Jackson, Roll, Kane, Parakhouski and you can add Cole to that with -11) which totaled a -80 for the game, somewhat forcing his hand to play the second unit a bit longer than perhaps he would have liked. On top of the large minus the starters were sporting, Spahija was without Deshaun Thomas who could have been a game changer for Maccabi and he had no answers as to what went wrong against Malaga, “All the starters ended with minus which means the second unit did a good job, but we need our starters and best players on the team and today they didn’t show up. I’ll go back and analyze, it’s a long season, mental toughness and consistency are our biggest problems right now.” He will also attempt to find out why there is a drop off after a big game win, “I will try to find out. Right now I don’t know, but I consider it our biggest problem this season. With all of our talent I realize after such a big game we don’t perform at the same level.” But Spahija also didn’t shy away from taking responsibility, “My philosophy is that if we lose the game it’s on us, especially on me as the coach. When the main players on the team have such a big gap on the plus minus it means something. At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I will not finger point.”

Overtime
Maccabi Tel Aviv will most probably look back at the first 15 games and find a few places that were missed opportunities especially with 9 games being held at home which means that they will have 9 away games during the second round. Road trips will come fast and furious with visits to Real Madrid, Baskonia, Valencia and Malaga in Spain, Olympiakos, Fenerbahçe, EFES, Zalgiris and Milano all on tap. The Yellow & Blue may pay the price for not winning a couple of more games and Spahija discussed just that, “If you asked me if I’m happy, I think we should have had one or two more wins.” Cole also knew that the Malaga loss was not one of their best, “I’m definitely disappointed because this was a game we should not have lost.” As I said earlier, this loss may come back to haunt them, big time. Now it’s on the State Cup Derby.