Maccabi Tel Aviv ended their 2018/19 Euroleague campaign with a 78-75 defeat at the hens of Fenerbahce in Istanbul. In a game that went back and forth throughout the 40 minutes, Kostas Sloukas drilled home a triple at the buzzer over Deni Avdija to take the last second win over the Yellow & Blue. Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention the night before their final continental contest as they ended their season with a 14-16 record.
Tarik Black scored 23 points to lead Maccabi while Scottie Wilbekin added 13 points and Avdija chipped in with 10 points in the loss. Sloukas dropped 22 points, Datome scored 17 points and Guduric added 13 points for Fenerbahce in the victory.
1) Credit has to go to Coach Sfairpoulos for turning around a season that was heading for a point of no return after a loss at Gran Canaria to drop their continental record to 1-6. The coach came in and began to change the attitude and culture around the club and it was evident almost immediately although the team lost their first two games under his tutelage. He created a team that battled each and every game from there on in and although they fell in a number of contests, it was never due to a lack of effort. Ending 13-10 with a number of big wins at CSKA and at home against Olympiacos and Panathinaikos was good but the defeats to Zalgiris at home and Milan on the road just weren’t going to cut it for a Maccabi that had a razor thin margin of error. Sfairpoulos spoke about his season following the game, “I think one more time we showed to everybody that we fight all the games and we try to do our best from the moment that I came to the team. It was very hard, what we tried to do, because the handicap in the beginning was really big. When I arrived to the team, the record was already 1-6. I arrived one day before playing Efes away and Fener at home. So with one practice, we played two difficult games that we lost. So on the 22nd of November, our record was 1-8, and we were the last team in the standings. From that moment, after we practiced one week, we started to win some games and we turned things around. And I think at the end, we didn’t qualify, but let’s say we have a bitter and a sweet taste in our mouths. Bitter because we didn’t qualify, but sweet because we changed all the things around in the EuroLeague, and we fought in all the games. One of the biggest examples is today’s game that – although we didn’t have a great motive to play this game; we were disappointed yesterday night after the results — but you see how we fought until the end and we lost to the first team in the standing on the buzzer.
2) Tarik Black was one of the players who took a bit of time to adjust to the Euroleague, the style of play and the referees after arriving in the offseason from the NBA. However, just as he showed against Fenerbahce he can be a dominating force who has now gotten used to the play in Europe and Maccabi would love to see the big man continue next season, but with the potential of heading back home to the US and the NBA I’d be pretty surprised if he decided to re-up with the Yellow & Blue. However, you never can say never especially in sports. Black looked back at the game that was as well as the Euroleague season, “It was a hard-fought game. I was proud of everyone on the team for how we came here and performed, regardless of the situation. We came here and gave it our all. Playing in the EuroLeague has been amazing. Great talent here, great group of guys in this locker room. We had a lot of fun traveling around, performing in Europe at a high level. These guys did a great job of making me look good, probably better than I truly am. And I’m just elated at how we bounced back from the way the season started, and how we responded to that situation. It showed a lot of perseverance and character in us.”
3) It’s now back to the Israeli league and Maccabi has to regain focus and begin to it 100% into the domestic games in order to repeat as Champions. After last week’s loss at home to Holon the coach was very, very animated as to the effort he expects from his players and should they not he said straight out that they would be gone. With a huge league game against Hapoel Jerusalem on the horizon on Monday, Sfairpoulos took time to look ahead to the challenges that await the club, “From now on we need to focus on our league, the Israeli League, to play the rest of the games of the regular season and then to be ready for the playoffs and the final four. I want to thank all of our fans, that they support us all this period. It’s very important that when we fought on the court we were listening to their voice from the stands and I want to say that we need them for the Israeli League.”
Deni Avdija played 18+ minutes against Fenerbahce and performed well scoring 10 points and pulling down 5 rebounds. However, it was on his head that Kostas Sloukas drained the game winning 3-pointer at buzzer. But put that aside, it’s not that bad to have such a great player like Sloukas beat you and it’s certainly not the end of the world. At the end of the day it was a learning experience for the youngster and one that he will never forget as he will most probably play serious minutes in the next Euroleague campaign as he readies for the 2020 NBA Draft. Deni needs to play and play and play so more, especially at the highest level that he can next season. Give him credit, two straight Euroleague games with ten points a piece, not bad, not bad at all. The future is bright.