Bagatskis bests Blatt as Maccabi defeats Darussafaka 93-92

Maccabi Tel Aviv picked up a 1-point win over their former coach David Blatt’s Darussafaka 93-92 at Yad Eliyahu on Thursday night. Sonny Weems starred for the Yellow & Blue with 24 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds while Maik Zirbes and Victor Rudd added 13 points a piece in the victory.

Weems began the first quarter charge by Maccabi scoring the first 5 points and finishing the frame with 12 as the hosts ran out to a commanding 29-14 lead. James Anderson for the visiting Turkish team scored 10 second quarter points to try and bring his side back into the game but Maccabi’s strong first half play gave them a 53-36 lead after 20 minutes.

With only one turnover and a 76% shooting percentage from 2-point range on 16/21 from the floor, Maccabi looked to finish off the game coming out of halftime, but Ainars Bagatskis’s team came out flat. Darussafaka took a four point lead going into the final frame 71-67 knocking down 7 3-pointers en route to a 35-14 white washing in the third quarter thanks to Will Clyburn’s 10 points.

However, Maccabi withstood the flurry as Weems took control of the offense scoring 5 points and dishing out 4 assists in the last ten minutes. With number 13 handing the point, Sylvan Landesberg, DJ Seely and most importantly a big time 3 pointer out of Quincy Miller for his first points of the season snatched the win away from Blatt.


1) Maccabi Tel Aviv’s first half play against Darussafaka was not only intelligent but elegant. It looked like the Yellow & Blue’s offense was running on all cylinders as Sonny Weems and Victor Rudd led the way. High shooting percentages from the floor and 18 rebounds with only one turnover is absolutely fabulous for a team that has struggled mightily of late. But then the third quarter began and it looked like the old Maccabi, giving up a huge lead, not playing defense and allowing the visitors to dominate the offensive boards. Whatever Bagatskis had heard about his team before stepping on the sidelines he was able to see first hand and experience it live and in person. He’ll have to find a way to solve this problem so he doesn’t have to give the post game talk he did after Darussafaka win.

2) Devin Smith’s issues are continuing as the veteran came up empty scoring zero points going 0/3 from the field in 16+ minutes. In addition, number 6 fouled out of the contest as he perhaps has even lost a step. Playing 5:30 in the 3rd quarter the visitors ran Maccabi ragged all over the court hitting seven 3-pointers. Bagatskis was able to give Landesberg almost 17 minutes of playing time and he may have to give the long range specialist even more of a chance and continue to drop Smith’s time on the court. I want to make it clear, I love Devin Smith and he’s the consummate professional but we also know the injury issues he’s had in the past and in Maccabi’s current state the Latvian coach may have to make further adjustments. For more on Smith of late check out “The Critical Flaw”.

3) Maccabi began the game with Weems, Rudd, Goudelock, Smith & Miller on the court, an interesting starting 5 to say the least. Bagatskis continues to preach that for him it’s still preseason as he has to get his game plan in place and I agree with him. But there are a couple of things he has to keep in mind. A) Weems & Goudelock are still having problems playing together and we saw that Weems was able to bail the Yellow & Blue out in the 4th quarter when Goudelock wasn’t on the floor. In fact the only time he was on the court was when he took the inbounds pass and traveled after being trapped by two Darussafaka players. B) Miller is still getting into the rhythm after not being able to play for about a half a year and his rust is certainly showing. He took three shots all game long and only hit his last which was a huge three late in the game. Perhaps Bagatskis should try and design some plays early on in the game to get him on the board which will help in giving him confidence on the offensive side of the court.


1) I asked David Blatt about his emotions coming back to coach in Tel Aviv. Of course he’s done it before most recently in an exhibition game in October but it’s still a question to ask considering all the good times he’s had at Yad Eliyahu: “It’s a very different kind of feeling, I imagine that there have been a few coaches in Europe but not many (who’ve had this type of experience) and I don’t know any that have done it for Maccabi Tel Aviv. It wasn’t easy to do, but it helped that we played here in the preseason. But the fans here are great and it’s great for the players to play in this environment and it’s great to coach here because you have a passionate crowd that understands and it raises everyone’s level. It wasn’t easy but I enjoyed it.”

2) Sonny Weems was certainly the star of the show against Darussafaka and led they way after having some poor performances of late. I liked that he got into the game right from the get go scoring the first five points and how he also led the team back late in the game to score the win. I asked both Weems and Bagatskis about this and the former was very nonchalant in his answer modestly not taking any credit: “Basketball is a game of runs. I only want the best for the team.”

The Latvian went more in-depth in his analysis: “Sonny is the type of player that you have to give him freedom on the court. I am really happy for him and he just did his job. He made smart decisions defensive and offensive wise. For 6-7 minutes Sonny played the point and he brought the team back into the game and found Zirbes as well as shots from Landesberg and Seely. We need to play as simple as possible and don’t lose the ball and don’t rush anything. That is what is most important.”

If Bagatskis wants to get down to the basics that’s great news, because fundamentals is what wins basketball games and playing simple basketball and not committing turnovers is a winning formula.

They Said It:

Ainars Bagatskis – Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
“We prepared the game and most important was not the basketball things, offense, defense, tactics. Most important was playing stable basketball. Stabilize the game for all 40 minutes. Don’t rush anything. Discipline. Consistency. All these kinds of words. For 20 minutes, the guys showed. I think the whole gym, all of Israel was impressed. Quality basketball. 1 turnover. Smart decision, nothing else. Just good quality basketball. Third quarter, everything is changing, for some reason. We started to celebrate, we were tired, we lost concentration. For some players, just bodies were on the court, not spirit. And at halftime I said there is only one way for Darussafaka to be back in the game and that’s three-point shots. Of course Darussfaka is a very serious team, a very mentally strong team and this season beat this season big name clubs in Europe. And they know how to play, especially if the opponent starts to hesitate, starts to think. David [Blatt] knows very well how to use those situations. And I don’t remember exactly, but in five or six minutes, Darussafaka was back in the game. And I say this before every game, if you don’t know what to do with the ball, shoot it. No turnovers. Until halftime we had 1 turnover. In total 10. The positive thing is that’s much less than the average for the season. Turnovers compensate bad rebounding, bad shooting and that was true in this game. Generally I am really happy because we won like twice. One in the standings and won confidence. ”

David Blatt – Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul
“I think the fans saw, from their perspective, a fantastic game. The game had almost everything: great plays, great activity, great competitiveness on both sides and certainly a very exciting finish. From our perspective we really, really gave everything we had to come back in the game and ultimately to lead the game by 7 points. And at that point I think that there was one or two plays that we didn’t do a good job defensively and that was the momentum moment of the game and ultimately probably cost us the game. ”

Sonny Weems – Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
“It was a great win for us, especially in front of these fans. They deserve it, we deserve it, this organization deserves it. Everybody deserves this win. They are a really aggressive team, a really good and they never go away. But we stuck with it at the end. ”

Brad Wanamaker – Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul
“Tel Aviv is always a tough place to play and we had a very bad first half. But we showed a lot of heart and toughness in the second half. We were able to get a very good comeback. We even led the game. But at the end, it wasn’t enough. A tough loss for us.”

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