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Saras defeats Maccabi in a triumphant return

Courtesy Euroleague.net

Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Zalgiris 93-77 in front of just over 6,000 fans at Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv as Šarūnas Jasikevičius made a triumphant return to Israel as head coach of the visiting team. Victor Rudd’s 16 points coupled with 11 by Sylven Landesberg and ten a piece from Diamon Simpson and Devin Smith weren’t enough against a very well oiled Lithuanian machine led by Edgaras Ulanovas with 20 points.

The Rundown
Maccabi opened the game well but went down by 3-points at the end of the first quarter 17-14 as Devin Smith and Joe Alexander each scored four points in the frame. However, the second quarter spelt disaster as the Yellow & Blue fell 11 points behind and Zalgiris took a 44-33 advantage into halftime thanks to 7-points from Kevin Pangos and 8 from Ulanovas.

The visitors continued to inflict further damage on the hosts as the Lithuanians extended their lead to 71-58 after 30 minutes as Victor Rudd with 9-points tried in vain to keep his team close. As the game looked to be slipping away, Maccabi mounted a comeback and cut the Zalgiris lead to just 4-points 79-75 with 3:35 to go. But they immediately imploded and went down by ten 85-75 soon thereafter as the game closed out with a 93-77 victory going to Saras’s side.

3-Pointers
1) Zalgiris ran a superb offense throughout the contest knowing exactly how to run down the shot clock and find the open man without panicking even when they were down to only 3 or 4 seconds. The visitors consistently found an unguarded player either in a corner or in the paint to continuously beat Maccabi to the punch. Shooting 65% from two and 42% from 3-point land was just too much for the Yellow & Blue to contend with even though they themselves went 14/24 from beyond the arc. Zalgiris’s numbers were just way to good and they knew how to make Maccabi pay time and time again.

2) Gal Mekel and Yogev Ohayon combined for 8 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 turnovers which was just not good enough. After playing super basketball in Turkey, the guards were given special attention by the Zalgiris defense and had zero room to maneuver. The visitors stifled Maccabi’s ability to find the open man, played extremely aggressive D and just wouldn’t let the pair of Israelis run the show. The Lithuanians did a masterful job of cutting off the passing lanes and buzzed around like bumble bees in order to disrupt the Maccabi offense as they themselves built up a solid lead which eventually led to the victory.

3) Only 6,150(!) fans came to the 11K+ seat arena to see Maccabi in really a meaningless game after being eliminated from Euroleague playoff contention. Were the fans right not to show up knowing that a win or a loss wouldn’t make any difference in their ability to move on to the playoff round. Or were they wrong for not being there for their team, their love, the Yellow & Blue? I’d like to believe the latter. The fans should be there through thick and thin supporting their team. Whether it’s during good times or bad, a fan is a fan and the team needs the support every which way, especially when they are down. I have to tell you, my boys and I jumped off of our couch when Sylven Landesberg’s shot bounced around the rim and finally dropped in at Fenerbahce. Yes, Maccabi was done for the 2016/17 European campaign but we all still cared and that’s what I expect from real fans. There’s one more home game left in two weeks time against Panathinaikos, let’s see the arena full once again.

Overtime
There’s a lot of rumors swirling as to who will be the Maccabi Tel Aviv Head Coach next season and Saras is certainly one of them. He was questioned and asked but of course wouldn’t really give a straight answer and understandably so. He’s done a masterful job and as a coach that thinks outside of the box. Is he right for Maccabi? He could be, however, as I’ve mentioned before and I’ll say again, I’d still like to see Ainars Bagatskis get a full campaign and a summer to build a team. There are always things one can be critical of in a coach and the has certainly been criticism leveled at the Latvian, but I’d still like to give him a fair shot. Coming into a rough situation in December is not ideal for any coach and Bagatskis has done an admirable job up until now. Can he take the Israeli title? That’s something we will need to see, but right now there’s no reason to think that Maccabi can’t.