Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Baskonia 81-79 in dramatic fashion at Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv as their Euroleague record moved to 3-9. Scottie Wilbekin and DeAndre Kane each scored 13 points while Johnny O’Bryant and Alex Tyus both dropped 12 points in the loss. Tornike Shengelia scored 20 points for Baskonia as Matt Janning added 16 points and Darrun Hilliard chipped in with 15 points in the victory.
Baskonia took a 22-17 lead after the first quarter as Tarik Black got into foul trouble just a shade after one minute into the game while Tornike Shengelia dropped 8 points on Maccabi in the frame. However, the Yellow & Blue went on a 15-4 run to start the second quarter taking a 32-26 advantage. From there each team went on a 7-0 run as DeAndre Kane was the catalyst with 4 points and a pair of steals as Maccabi went into halftime up 41-36.
The Yellow & Blue continued their fine play in the second half as Johnny O’Bryant scored 6 points in the quarter bringing his total to 12 points, but Shengelia scored an important basket at the end of the frame to keep within striking distance of Maccabi 61-55. However, the final ten minutes saw the tables turn on the host’s as both O’Bryant and Black both fouled out early in the frame leaving Maccabi short handed the rest of the way. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad took a 71-64 lead thanks to a Wilbekin 3-pointer with 5:10 to go but out of the timeout, Matt Janning drilled two buckets from beyond the arc to pull within one point, 71-70. But four free throws by Shengelia and two baskets by Vincent Poirier the last being a mega slam dunk handed the visitor’s the win.
1) It’s tough to focus on one play especially when Maccabi gave up 27 points in the last quarter, but with 11 seconds left on the clock, Maccabi down by two 81-79, the ball in Scottie Wilbekin’s hands and 11,000 fans on their feat, magic was about to take place and the guard who signed on to be the team’s star was going to find a way to win the game or at worst send it to overtime. What happened? Nothing, that’s what happened. Wilbekin brought the ball up dribbled and dribbled and then hesitated. Instead of finding his shot or finding the open man, he made an ill advised pass inside to Tyus that Shengelia got a hand on just as time expired to secure the win. Credit to Wilbekin who faced the cameras and the press following the game which certainly wasn’t easy. “I just made a bad decision, it was the wrong play and I shouldn’t have passed it to Alex Tyus, he wasn’t open. I should have kept the ball and shot it myself. They scored 27 points in the 4th. Anytime we got ahead by 7,8,9 points we let them back into it. It’s too bad. We really were fighting hard and we thought this was going to our game but we made to many mistakes.” Tyus explained what happened at the end from his point of view, “We wanted to give Scottie a shot, come off the screen but they trapped it. So he was probably going to take a shot or try to get somebody else a open shot. Unfortunately we didn’t get the last basket.”
2) The Final Four will be held in Baskonia this season and Velimir Perasovic wants to make sure his team is there and I’m sure the league would like them to be there as well. And the referees? There were certainly spotty calls all night long with the majority seemingly going against Maccabi time and time again. Johnny O’Bryant fouled out with 8:58 left in the game while Tarik Black who picked up two fouls before the game was more than a minute and a half old also was done for the evening with 4:32 left in the contest. Add to that the fact that Shengelia shot 8 free throws in the last quarter and took 15 for the game all by himself and you have the perfect storm for the visitor’s “Two guys foul out and one of their guys shoots 15 free throws. That’s a tough night. One guy shoots 15 free throws and two foul out, that’s crazy.” O’Bryant said to Or Shkedy from Walla Sport. Something just doesn’t make sense. You can add to that that Baskonia only had two fouls up until roughly a minute left while Maccabi and five fouls long ago and yes you have the perfect storm. I asked Sfairopoulos as to the adjustments that O’Bryant and Black will need to make and he said, “This is a very good point. Baskonia has the experience at the end to win the game. We have talented players but they have to understand how the game goes in Europe. I believe that game by game they will understand this and play better. We need to play smarter and learn how to play in the crucial parts of the game.” Shengelia, a European great will almost always get the calls in his favor, 10 fouls drawn with 4 coming in the last quarter proves that point. If you read right between the line, “Baskonia has the experience at the end to win the game” kind of says it all you need to know.
3) Maccabi has a very important Israel League game on Saturday night when they host Hapoel Jerusalem in the “Israeli Classico” and the turnaround is going to have to be quick. The locker room was down and depressed after the loss to Baskonia. How will they bounce back? That remains to be seen. On one hand they may get blown out of the water, on the other the Yellow & Blue can come out flying and take out their frustration on Jerusalem. Which one will it be? Angelo Caloiaro said what needs to be done, “We’ve got to bounce back and get in here Friday and continue to get better as the season goes on. We gave a big one on Saturday. The game against Jerusalem means a lot and we’re going to be here Friday and start preparing. We’ll be ready.” Captain John Dibartolomeo also talked about Saturday night’s clash, “We need to come back in prepare and get ready on Friday so we can’t sulk about this loss for too long.” Maccabi doesn’t have the option to come in depressed. They have to get ready to go and do what they need to to win the game.
I interviewed Darrun Hilliard in my Interview Preview piece ahead of the game and I had a chance to speak to him afterwards as well.
Importance of the win:
“It was an important game and a lot of guys stepped up. It was a gutty win and I’m happy we came out on top.”
“The coach is on us in practice every day and we live for moments like that. Maccabi is a good team and they have a great core. We knew it would be a tough game and we wanted to give our best effort.”
Trying to qualify for the Final Four being held in Vitoria:
“It’s very important especially for the fans but at the same time we don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves and we just want to game it one game at a time, play to our full potential every time and hopefully that will give us enough to get a home court advantage for the Final Four.”
A number of players shared their disappointment about losing to Baskonia. Caloiaro, “We’re very disappointed. We wanted to win, we should have won and we didn’t.” Tyus, “It was a tough ending. I thought we played with pretty good energy. They played well. We could have done some things better but we have to move forward.” Dibartolomeo, “It came down to a one possession game and we couldn’t get that one stop that we needed and they made plays down the stretch to close it out.”
One last thing
I asked Sfairopoulos about the potential of registering Kendrick Ray for the Israeli League. “We only have one position and we’ve been thinking about this. I think it’s too risky if something happens if there is an injury and we need replacements. We need to discuss all the parameters and if we do we won’t have another option if something unexpected happens.” In other words it ain’t happening anytime soon.