Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Armani Milano in Italy 111-102 to move to 11-9 in Euroleague action good for 8th place while pulling them even on wins with Khimki and putting them two games ahead of Baskonia. In the high scoring affair, the Yellow & Blue featured 6 players in double digits including Norris Cole with 19 points, Deshaun Thomas 18 points, Pierre Jackson 16 points, the pair of Maccabi centers Art Parakhouski and Alex Tyus each scoring 14 points a piece while Michael Roll rounded out the half dozen with a dozen of his own. Jordan Theodore had 22 points as Artudas Gudaitis drained 18 points for Simone Pianigiani’s side.
1) Maccabi’s shooting percentages were absolutely insane going 31/49 63.3% from 2 and 9/14 64.3% from beyond the arc. Add to that 22/26 from the charity stripe and it seemed that the Yellow & Blue couldn’t miss even if they tried. Was it Milano poor defense or the fact that Neven Spahija’s players had almost a full week of practice that was the catalyst in the win? I reckon it was a combination of both as DeAndre Kane alluded to, “It was a great team effort, first of all. We had a great week of practice. This one was a very important for us to get one on the road, and keep one of the top eight spots.” Spahija also spoke about how crucial this game was for his squad, “Now, it is money time and every game counts.”
2) Norris Cole, leader. Norris Cole played a phenomenal game scoring 19 points on 5/7 from 2, 1/1 from 3 and 6/6 from the free throw line while he added 6 assists and 3 turnovers. 13 of his 19 points came over the last 14:29 of the contest and he also dished out two critical assists both to Deshaun Thomas who drilled home two 3’s to put the game out of reach when the Maccabi lead stood at only 4 points 102-98 with 1:32 remaining. Cole spoke about being a leader, “I am just leading my guys, trying to be a leader. We needed this win and my teammates did a great job fighting, setting good screens for me, rebounding the ball. We played as a team tonight and when the time came for me to lead and step up, I was able to do that.” Not only did Cole step up both on the court and through the media but he also credited his teammates for putting him in situations that he could succeed. Now that’s the Cole that I’m sure Spahija has wanted to see. If Maccabi wants to have any chance to make a serious move over the last third of the Euroleague season they are going to need the 2x NBA Champ to not only play his best but to be the leader that the Yellow & Blue has somewhat lacked this season.
3) The third quarter in my opinion is the make it or break it quarter and Maccabi definitely made it against Milano. Jackson came out flying and scored 7 points quickly to help give Maccabi a 15 point lead 67-52 after just 4:14 after beginning the frame up 57-50. Kane spoke about the preparations the team made prior to stepping out on the court after halftime, “The key was the first five minutes of the second half. We talked about it. We have nice leads going into halftime, then somehow come out slow in the third quarter. We wanted to come out and go after those guys. We knew they would make the run; they have players who can make tough shots in tough moments. But we stuck with it. We hit a lot of huge shots, Norris Cole made a lot of huge shots, and it was a great team effort.” The third quarter is money time and the Yellow & Blue made sure to cash in.
Although Maccabi played a tremendous game offensively, if they would have been able to crack down on defense they would have been able to put away the game way before Milan was able to pull to within 4 points with less than two minutes left in the 4th quarter. Spahija spoke about his team’s effort in both ends of the court, “I have to give credit to my team and what they did offensively, but I still think we need to play way better defense if we want to make another step this season. We controlled maybe 90% of the game, and it is not easy to play against anybody and control the game 100% of the time.”
The Head Coach also commented on the short rotation he played which could have cost him the game as he decided to leave Karam Mashour, Jake Cohen and Italy Segev on the bench for the full 40 minutes while the newly minted captain John DiBartolomeo played less than 5 minutes. “We lost the focus; we played with a short rotation tonight and players were probably tired. We had six turnovers in the last quarter and 12 in the entire game. This is a big reason why they came back,” Spahija commented. Perhaps the coach should have expanded his rotation even just a bit when Maccabi was up by double digits. It could have potentially saved him the heartache over the final the minutes of the game.