Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Panathinaikos 76-75 in Israel on Gameday 28 in front of a sold out crowd at Yad Eliyahu. Deshaun Thomas’s last gasp fall away jumper from the right just came up short as the 1-point defeat leaves the Yellow & Blue two games under .500 at 13-15 as Baskonia, next week’s opponent sits at 14-13 with a date at Barcelona this evening in a game that could almost end Maccabi’s European campaign for all intents and purposes as destiny is not in their own hands. Mike James starred for the visitors as the former NBA guard led all scorers with 27 points, Ian Vougioukas dropped 16 points and Nick Calathes dropped 10 points in the win. DeAndre Kane with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists was the main man for Maccabi as Norris Cole scored 14 points in the loss.
Maccabi used 9 second quarter points from John DiBartolomeo to take a 41-35 lead into halftime while Mike James who just returned to Panathinaikos from the NBA led the Greek side with 11 points. However, the host’s came out flat after halftime but stayed in the lead by 2-points, 58-56 thanks to Kane’s 12 3rd quarter points after 30 minutes, but it would not be enough to take the victory as James scored the winner with just 5 seconds left in the game to hand his team the win.
1) Mike James joined a long list of guards who just outright killed Maccabi this season; it seems that there is always someone who just has the Yellow & Blue’a number. From McCollum to Rochestie and Guduric, James just came into the game, scored his Euroleague career high of 27 points and slaughtered the Yellow & Blue just like so many before him. Not only did he score at will throughout the contest but he also took Jonah Bolden for a ride on the winning basket as #5 just kept backing into the 76ers property and then easily turned and made his shot to take the game. Give credit to Panathinaikos for giving out and signing James. Now that’s a team that saw an opportunity to improve their team and they jumped on it. James could be their X-Factor going into the playoffs and take the Greeks to the Final Four.
2) Let’s take a look at the aforementioned Bolden. I’m still trying to understand why Spahija brought on the Australian-American for the last play and defend James who had been unstoppable. The coach explained that he wanted to have a player with length and size to defend him, but perhaps he would have been better off going for a double team or staying with Cole although he had 4 fouls and a 5th would send him to the showers. However, Bolden has just been extremely inconsistent all Euroleague season on. There are times that he looks like the star who will take Philly by storm, while there are other times when he just doesn’t make an impact like last night versus Panathinaikos, last week against Khimki and EFES the week before that. Bolden’s averaging 6.8 points and is shooting 64% from 2 and 31% from 3. From the free throw line he’s shooting a measly 51%, is pulling down 5.5 boards and is dishing out 1.6 assists per game. I have no doubt that Bolden will develop into a top line NBA player, but I just wish that he would have really made more of an impact as the potential is there.
3) Pierre Jackson barely saw the hardwood against Panathinaikos especially during money time and as the game wound down. He definitely wasn’t too happy when we he didn’t feature during crunch time and his face said it all in the lockerroom as his feet were in ice buckets, “It’s not my decision to be or not to be on the court. Tough loss. We are all pissed off here. It was an important game for us.” Jackson definitely took the high road and didn’t criticize the decision maker. However, there can be plenty of questions that can be be asked including why the team played so poorly overly over the second round. Was it only 6 homes games? Was it not winning enough games in the first round? Were the other teams just better? Did they jell better than Maccabi? Were they able to do the little things better than Maccabi?
“Tough loss especially when you feel like you should have won it. In such a close game it all depends on the little plays. We tried to execute the game plan but fell short,” explained Norris Cole to me in the lockerroom after the game as he sat staring out into space, down in the dumps after the defeat. I asked Spahija about what separates Maccabi from the other teams when it comes down to the little things, the small details that make all the difference, “We are a new group. It’s the first time together for these 12 guys and there are only 3 players on our team who have Euroleague experience. Some of our players didn’t even play in the EuroCup. The main difference is the experience factor.” That’s been the explanation over the last week or so as the Euroleague season is coming to an end, and there is certainly merit to that. You can’t compare Panathinaikos, a team that’s has had many players playing together for a number of years to Maccabi. It’s impossible to. There’s no question that there’s no substitute for experience. Experience needs to be gained over time and Maccabi hasn’t had that. But my question is, how many players will be on next year’s Maccabi team from this season’s squad?
And one last thing
DeAndre Kane had a fantastic game and not only led Maccabi in the stat sheet but also displayed the heart of a lion. Kane cares, there’s no question about that. He hates to lose; absolutely hates it and that’s good. Maccabi needs more and more players like that. But when he’s the highest scoerer in a must win game, where’s the rest of the players?