A bad loss and losing the team: Sfairopoulos and Maccabi under pressure to get back on track

Dec 10, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

This was a bad loss and there is no way around it.

Falling to Kazan at home is a no-no.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos has no excuses for his team’s play this time around.

A team that was disconnected.

A team that had little confidence.

A team that fell apart over the final quarter.

A team that was just not well a team.

Once again Maccabi looked like a lost puppy, a flock of lost sheep without a shepherd to lead them to the promised land.

The shepherd in fact looks to have lost his flock of sheep.

They have tuned out their leader and whatever is being said seems to be going in one ear and out the other.

Maccabi has looked awful over the past month save for an Israeli league game at Rishon Le’Zion.

Just look at the Yellow & Blue’s most recent game prior to the loss to Kazan in the domestic competition at Nes Ziona this past Sunday night. An absolute disaster.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

As much as Ioannis Sfairopoulos can talk about family and how the season is long and that heads have to be held up high, the message just isn’t hitting the mark.

It’s unconscionable that Maccabi at home can only score 8 points while giving up 22 in the final frame. It can’t be that their first field goal of the period came 3:50 into the last quarter.

Both the players and coach were wound up so tight, that everyone was so afraid to make mistake that they didn’t juts make one boo-boo, but plenty of them down the stretch as shot after shot after shot missed its mark.

“When you play on your home court and you are down, there is pressure and you have to score and play good defense. We missed a few layups in a row and unfortunately we turned the ball over two times. We have to learn and not give out points on transition. When the pressure comes you need a clean head,” Sfairopoulos said.

The last thing anyone had was a clean head as the pressure got to them all.

Oz Blayzer – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Oz Blayzer who was a surprise first substitute off the bench put in a solid 3+ minutes but then only came back in the third quarter. However, that wasn’t the only surprise waiting for Blayzer.

Sfairopoulos put Blayzer back into the game with 4:04 left in the third quarter when Hezonja came in and almost immediately was able to pick up a charge, which was the Croatian’s fourth foul of the game sending him right back to the bench with 3:41 left in the frame. The Maccabi coach left Blayzer in, he missed a 3-pointer and then was taken out with 3:21 remaining to a chorus of boos from the crowd.

The Maccabi fans wanted Blayzer to stay in the game and they made their feelings known to all within a 10 mile radius of Yad Eliyahu.

When asked about the move at the point game press conference Blayzer brushed the incident off, “It was a tactical matchup by the coach and I accept that. I am a player on this team and I do what I can for the team. It didn’t bother me in the least. I didn’t even realize the fans reaction and I got back onto the court due to the matchup I had. I’m fine with that.”

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Sfairopoulos was also questioned about the move and to say he didn’t appreciate the question would be an understatement, “He came to guard Hezonja and he was very good. Oz was very good and when he made his third fouls he came out. He got the charge and fourth foul. I wanted him to guard Hezonja. But Canaan is a smaller player and John Dibartolomeo who I brought in played very good defense on him. When Hezonja came back in so did Oz.”

Let’s set the record straight on this. Blayzer stayed on after Hezonja was taken off, missed a 3-pointer and then was subbed off. Canaan was already on the court and hit a 3-pointer with Dibartolomeo while defending him and Sfairopoulos kept in Angelo Caloiaro who could have come off instead of Blayzer.

To add insult to injury, Sfairopoulos then spoke about the fans booing and shared his thoughts that could have been a measured a bit better than they were as he has received much criticism about the choice of words he used, “We are Maccabi in the good days and bad days. This is the second time (fans booting) and it happened in the Red Star game. The fans have to help the team and their behavior is against Maccabi. If they want to do that they can. When we lose the game we need them with us then. I am doing my job as best as I can and I should not have to explain why we did these things (the substitution of Blayzer) but I am trying to teach and maybe someone will learn.”

Fans are never interested in getting a lecture about when they can cheer and when they can boo as that is part of being a fan and the right of a fan who pays their hard earned Shekel to attend the game. There is no law against expressing displeasure or support.

Derrick Williams – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Also, who is that someone he referred to at the end of that comment? James Nunnally whom Blayzer had replaced in the third quarter? Derrick Williams who came out midway through the third quarter and only reentered late in the fourth? Both? Perhaps. They have both struggled mightily of late.

Everything was set up on a silver platter for Sfairpoulos and Maccabi to win this game and they just couldn’t.

Kazan was in foul trouble all night and John Brown along with Mario Hezonja had to sit out big stretches of the first half. Maccabi had 28 free throws to the Russians 17. Perasovic had to be creative in his lineups and did incredible work to have his best players down the stretch when the game went into money time and the Yellow & Blue couldn’t figure out how to eliminate the two mentioned above.

“First of all, winning in Tel Aviv is always difficult because playing here is not easy,” Perasovic said. “The game was very difficult for us. We brought the game to the last quarter, when they played really good defense. And also, it is true that Maccabi missed some very open shots which they scored in the beginning of the game. We had big problems all game long, especially in the first half, with fouls. Our important players had to stay a lot of time on the bench but the guys did a good job and we stayed in the game until they could play in the second half. So I am very happy because, I repeat, it is very difficult to win here.”

Velimir Perasovic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The Kazan bench boss who had a stellar career with Yugoplastika in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s certainly didn’t take winning in Israel for granted and perhaps with this group of players he has a chance to take them to a surprise appearance in the playoffs, “We started 1-4 and no one was thinking at this point about it. But when you win some tough games at Panathinaikos and against Real Madrid you gain confidence and understand that anything is possible. We have a tough schedule and we need to be focussed on the next game and we will see where we can go.”

What will be going forward for Maccabi? Blayzer shared what the Maccabi bench boss said following the game to the team, “Coach said that we have to learn from this game and stay together. We are one family and when we find the way we will go on that new way together. We can’t get stuck on the losing streak and if we do then we won’t win going forward.”

Sfairopoulos himself also said what his message was to the players as well, “I told the players that it’s a long season and we are with a few teams with the same record. We lost games against some tough teams like Real Madrid and CSKA on the road and if we put our heads down we will kill ourself and we have to be mentally stronger. The mentally strong will succeed.”

It’s true that the mentally strong will succeed and unfortunately down the stretch Maccabi is anything but that.

The sand in the hourglass is beginning to run out on the season as well as for Sfairopoulos. With a 7-7 Euroleague record and a 5-3 mark in Israeli league play, Maccabi is nowheres as to where they want to be and where they need to be especially in continental play if they have any designs of advancing to the playoffs since 2015.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The coach said he hasn’t thought about making changes to the roster but one can’t believe he is happy with the personnel he has that haven’t exactly been lighting it up on the court.

Sfairopoulos always talks about Maccabi being family. That’s fine and dandy but the divorce rate is 50% for married couples and in fact there is an entire tractate of the Talmud devoted on just that, divorce.

As much as Sfairopoulos wants to be part of Maccabi, Maccabi needs to want to be a part of Sfairopoulos.

There is no question that Sfairopoulos has done a good job in putting the Maccabi house in order over the past few years. He has won Israeli titles as well as State Cups, but with the challenge of COVID-19, Maccabi hasn’t seemed to be able to get back to the top of the Euroleague heap.

Can Maccabi afford not to make the playoffs once again?

Maccabi has talented players starting with Scottie Wilbekin. Perhaps some cosmetic changes need to be made to the roster to shore up certain areas. But will Sfairopoulos be the one to finish off this campaign while there is a former Maccabi icon sitting on the sidelines biding his time and waiting for his next job in one Oded Katash?

Scottie Wilbekin and Mario Hezonja – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The next test will be a home Israeli league clash against Hapoel Beer Sheva who will look to impress their new head coach Christoforos Livadiotis and that will be followed up with a road trip to Turkey and a date with Fenerbahce followed up by a home encounter with defending Euroleague champions Anadolu EFES. And it doesn’t get any easier after that.

How much more time will Sfairopoulos get and can he get the team back on track? How long will management wait? Those are all questions that the following few weeks should answer.

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