“We will fight until the end” – Maccabi falls to EFES 79-71

Dov Halickman Photography

Maccabi Tel Aviv fell to Anadolou EFES 79-71 at Yad Eliyahu as their Euroleague record dropped to 12-14 with four games remaining in the regular season. After a tight first thirty minutes that ended all knotted up at 58-58, EFES dominated the 4th quarter 21-13 to record the victory. Tarik Black scored 18 points, Johnny O’Bryant dropped 13 points while John DiBartolomeo added 10 minutes in the loss. Vasilije Micic led the way for EFES with 15 points, Shane Larkin, Adrien Moerman and Rodrigue Beaubois all scored 13 points as Bryant Dunston chipped in with a workmanlike 12 points in the win.

The centers were the center of attention in the first frame as Black scored 11 points for Maccabi and Dunston answered back for EFES with 6 points as the Yellow & Blue took a 18-13 lead after ten minutes. A trio of triples by Yovel Zoosman and a pair by DiBartolomeo got Maccabi rolling in the second quarter to pull ahead 31-22 but a pair of 3-pointers from Tibor Pleiss and Micic brought EFES back into the game as the half ended with the Yellow & Blue ahead 41-39.

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Beaubois and Moerman hit back to back 3-pointers to our EFES in the lead 53-48 midway through the third quarter but Black and O’Bryant went to work to pull even at 58-58 after thirty minutes. Larkin led EFES to a 13-4 run to start the 4th quarter and give the visitor’s a 71-62 advantage with 5 minutes left in regulation time. With Maccabi in their back heals Moerman and Micic again scored a number of crucial baskets that went unanswered by Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad as they fell 79-71.

3-Pointers
1) This was a very disappointing home loss for Maccabi Tel Aviv any way you slice it. With a chance to move to .500 on the season the Yellow & Blue came up short. Was it their game to win or their game to lose? Probably both. EFES is in the midst of arguably their best season in years and are sitting in 4th place with a record of 17-9. The key for EFES has been that they are playing like a team. They have a balanced attack and play excellent basketball as a team. With five players finishing with 12 points of more, going 27/44 from 2 and turning the ball over only 7 times its hard to say that EFES showed any weak points in the win. Truth be told they are as good as any of the other top flight teams in the Euroleague and they are aware that perhaps, just perhaps a continental title may be in the offing. I asked their coach Ergin Ataman about his feelings of winning for the first time in Tel Aviv after ten tries, “I hope this will not be just the first win over Maccabi but the first Euroleague title. I have a lot of confidence in my players and we have played great basketball this year. We came into tonight’s game very focused and I’m proud of my players.”

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2) What led to the Maccabi loss in a must, must win game? You could say that it was Tarik Black’s foul problems, or DeAndre Kane’s first quarter foul woes that led to a poor performance, or the EFES lockdown defense on Michael Roll (11 minutes), Scottie Wilbekin (3/11) and Jeremy Pargo 2/8. Well it was probably a combination of all of the above as EFES controlled the game, especially in the second half. Coach Sfairopoulos spoke about Black’s foul trouble and what effect it had on the game, “He got the technical foul and the offensive foul at the start of the 4th and at that moment we were very close to them. After the game you can say that I should keep him or not but it’s always a risk. What would have happened if he was in for a minute and picked up a 5th foul. As the game went we had the chances at the end. But the technical and offensive fouls were very crucial that was from an unforced turnover from our side. I agree that the foul problem of Tarik was important for the result.” Sfairopoulos also talked about Kane’s performance, “He had two fouls in the first quarter and in the second I tried to protect him. It was not one of his best games.”

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3) I had a chance to ask some of the players about what went wrong against EFES including Johnny O’Bryant, “They got some easy looks, easy 3’s and we got behind. Tarik has been great for us and is one of the best big men in the league. He does a great job in bringing energy switching on defense, but getting the 4 fouls really hurt us.” Jeremy Pargo also spoke about the disappointing result, “We played hard and gave it away; it happens. We had our opportunities and we couldn’t convert.” Alex Tyus also chimed in, “There were points in the game where we could have played better. We came back a few times but it wasn’t enough.” The question now is, does Maccabi still have a chance to qualify for the Top 8.

Overtime
It certainly won’t be easy but Maccabi still has a chance to qualify for the quarterfinals. With four games remaining they will need to run the table. Possible? Yes. Probable? Let’s keep hoping just like the players are. O’Bryant, “For sure we can do it. We fought like hell until now so we will fight until the end no matter what the odds are.” Pargo also believes that Maccabi can, “Of course we can. That’s the goal and we are looking forward towards next week.”