Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Buducnost 81-76 to move their Euroleague record to 6-11. The yellow-and-blue’s former point guard Norris Cole was the star of the show and scored his team’s first ten points, however, Maccabi’s clutch shooting and tight 4th quarter defense helped Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad come out on top. Scottie Wilbekin led Maccabi with 16 points, Tarik Black added 12 points while DeAndre Kane dropped 11 points in the win. John Dibartolomeo scored a pair of 3-pointers late in the 3rd quarter to move the momentum in Maccabi’s direction. Cole drained 25 points on 10/14 from the field.
Cole was welcomed back to Yad Eliyahu with a special presentation as the fans gave him a standing ovation for helping Maccabi win the Israel league title last season. The accolades certainly helped him set the tone early as his ten points propelled Buducnost to a 18-12 lead after the first quarter as Kane tried to keep Maccabi close with 6 points. Alex Tyus and Black pulled the host’s to within three points, 37-34 after twenty minutes but Cole continued his scoring outburst to raise his game high total to 18 points.
Maccabi cut the Buducnost lead to just one point, 60-59 thanks to a pair of John Dibartolomeo triples after three quarters. Wilbekin and Kane scored buckets as Buducnost’s NBA big man prospect Goga Bitadze and James Bell fouled out for the visitor’s. Yovel Zoosman, Johnny O’Bryant and Wilbekin’s 3-pointers soon gave Maccabi a 75-68 advantage as they wrapped up a 81-76 victory as they head to Moscow for a date with CSKA on Friday night.
Maccabi will play their second EuroLeague game of the week when they visit CSKA Moscow tonight in Russia. The yellow-and-blue will look to win both games in a double week for the first time since the competition moved to the current 30 game format. However, that won’t be an easy task as the star laden squad which includes Nando de Colo, Sergio Rodriguez and Will Clyburn hold a 13-4 record and are 6-0 at home. In fact, Maccabi hasn’t won at CSKA since February 12, 2004 when current Zalgiris coach Šarūnas Jasikevičius scored 25 points and Maccabi’s General Manager Nikola Vujcic recorded a double-double. But the game will always be remembered for Anthony Parker’s fade-away 3-point jumper at the buzzer to steal the victory for the yellow-and-blue.
1) Maccabi Captain John Dibartolomeo may have only played 5:44 but it was a huge 5:44. JohnD came off the bench with 3:20 left in the game with the score 51-48 for Buducnost and dished out an asset on Kendrick Ray’s triple and then hit a pair of 3-pointers to give the Yellow & Blue a 59-55 lead which changed the complexion of the game. The Sports Rabbi name him the MVP – Most Valuable Player for the contest but perhaps the award should have been really the MVGC – Most Valuable Game Changer. Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about the captain’s contribution, “John is a player that always gives a lot to the team and can change the game like he did tonight. I support him and he was helpful for the team.” Scottie Wilbekin also praised Dibartolomeo, “Huge for us. He came in and hit some huge shots when we needed them.” Michael Roll also gave his compliments, “He gave us the spark that we needed.” Finally the Captain himself gave kudos to the team and as always deflected the spotlight from himself in his usual modest fashion, “Every win is important especially when we are able to do it in front of our home crowd. I was proud of the team for continuing to fight from start to finish despite some lapses on the offense end. Our defense is what separated us tonight and is key for us moving forward in the right direction.”
2) The home crowd was a bit vocal when John Dibartolomeo was subbed out and Scottie Wilbekin was subbed in. The fans weren’t happy about that and after Wilbekin hit a big 3-pointer to give Maccabi a 75-68 lead he put his finger to his mouth to silence them. Not the look that the Yellow & Blue wants, but one could understand if the guard was upset, he’s human and it’s only natural. Wilbekin was really the MVP of the game as he took the bull by they horns in the final frame and scored 7 huge points in the victory. The fans have to understand that it’s a team where everyone contributes in various different ways and should be very careful how they treat a player that is a winner and can excel in crunch time just as he did also against Eilat. Wilbekin was asked about it after the game and said that he was in no way silencing the fans, “No, we got the win and that’s all that matters. We got to get another win at CSKA and it was great to get a win at home.” However, Coach Sfairopolous definitely wanted to make sure the fans weren’t upset with what had happened on the court, “I want to say we want our fans to be with us. We are trying to do our best. We lost to Fenerbahce which was after I was with the team for just 2 days, and we lost on the last ball to Baskonia. We have won 4 from 5 home games since I have arrived to the team. I know Maccabi has fans everywhere and they come and support us. We want them to believe in us. We will fight and spit blood for Maccabi to succeed.”
3) Alex Tyus has undoubtedly been one of the Yellow & Blue’s best players recently as the center again scored 8 points and was perfect from the field. It’s great to see Alex playing well and the big man got the start ahead of Tarik Black who is still nursing a hamstring injury, scored 12 points giving the centers 20 combined points on the night. Tyus talked about the win, “We needed the win especially at home. I’m getting into the rhythm and me and Tarik need to to help the team win and bring energy everyday. Most importantly we got the win and we want to get on a winning streak which would be good for us.”
Norris Cole made his return to Tel Aviv and couldn’t have played a better game as he sliced up the Maccabi defense for 25 points, 18 of which came in the first half. The guard was very excited to be back in Israel and I asked him about that following the game, “I was excited to be back here in Tel Aviv. I was able to see all the familiar faces and to be back in this arena where I played a lot of games was great where I had a lot of points, a lot of stops, a lot of steals and a lot of fun including a championship. It was fun to be back.” He also spoke about signing Israel’s National Anthem Hatikva which he did throughout last season, “I joined in a little bit. They didn’t play it over the loudspeakers so I was trying to follow along with the Gate as they have their own rhythm to it. I said a couple words. I didn’t forget.” Michael Roll spoke about Cole’s impact on the game, “Norris is a very good player especially for this team. He hit the ultra green light and that’s what they need from him nearly the whole game. We knew he was going to score, he’s a good player and he’d do that with any team.” Wilbekin also talked about the former Maccabi guard, “He came out really hot making everything, tough shots and we tried to limit him in the second half and we were able to do that.” Tyus also complimented his firm teammate, “He’s a great player and playing with him last year we obviously knew what he could do.” It was great to see you once again Norris Cole, you will never be forgotten.
And-1 and Some
Michael Roll, who although didn’t put up the numbers he did in the last couple of games as the ball just didn’t fall for his quality shots also discussed the victory “It’s a win that we needed and we all gave something, everyone that played and everyone on the bench that didn’t play. It felt very nice.” Roll also spoke about how everybody chipped in, “We tired them out all game and that’s everybody chipping in. We’re deeper than them and it showed at the end.” About his shots not making it through the bottom of the basket, “All of them felt great and I felt that they were all going in. Some went down and then spun out, but that’s how the game goes. I’m not going to stop shooting as they were very good shots for the team. It’s ok, next time they will go in.” The key to winning in Moscow? “Everybody has to play all 40 minutes; it’s going to be a team effort.”
– Yovel Zoosman had a terrific game with 8 points in 22 minutes. He finished with a +13 on the night and was solid defensively especially during money time.
– Goga Bitadze fouled out after playing 23 minutes and scoring 8 points for Buducnost.
– The Cleveland Cavaliers Director of Scouting Brandon Weems was in attendance as he was watching Deni Avdja who although dressed didn’t get into the game Zoosman and Bitadze. Weems is very good friends with LeBron James and it was good to see him in the house.
– There was a big scuffle during the game around Shmuel Frenkel the Israel Winner Basketball League Chairman when fans demanded that the league change its Final 4 format to series. Maccabi Chairman Shimon Mizrahi had to race over there from his seat to calm the storm.
– Frenkel then went on to attack Maccabi and general manager Nikola Vujcic that the team is an Israeli team that plays in Europe and not a European team that plays in a country in the middle east. He also called him out as being a foreigner and that he couldn’t care less that it’s an Israeli league. Personally as someone who made Aliyah and moved to Israel, I’m appalled at the Chairman’s comments; it’s disgusting and a disgrace. Vujcic in response rightfully hit back at Frenkel in the tweets below.
Maybe you should focus on what you do best – help other teams pass rules that no other league in the WORLD has and that have one purpose only (like you told me YOURSELF) – to weaken Maccabi. This you do very well!
— Nikola Vujcic (@NikolaVujcic7) January 9, 2019
It’s sad to see that the chairman of the league is attacking a manager in the biggest club of his league only because he is foreigner. It’s a disgrace for Israeli sports and Israeli basketball and you should be ashamed.
— Nikola Vujcic (@NikolaVujcic7) January 9, 2019