Thursday night, Maccabi Tel Aviv (10th place, 12-12) suffered its second home loss of the season in an 89-86 defeat to Crvena Zvezda/Red Star Belgrade (equal 12th place, 11-13), making the playoff situation a little more complicated for the Yellow & Blue. Nemanja Nedovic (28 points, 1 rebound and 2 assists), Luka Mitrovic (14 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals) and Ognjen Dobric (13 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals) led the way for the victors, while Wade Baldwin IV (38 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists), Bonzie Colson (16 points, 5 rebounds and 1 steal) and Darrun Hilliard (10 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal) were in double-figures for the home team.
Here are a few of my reflections from the round 24 clash.
The Good: Baldwin
While Maccabi didn’t get the W, last night Baldwin both had a personal best for points scored in the EuroLeague and the record for the most points scored by a Maccabi player in the EuroLeague era. His 39 performance index rating is among the top of his career (his career-best being 41 from his time with Bayern Munich in a 2020 game against Barcelona).
While it may not have been his best nigh, Baldwin – carrying a large load with Lorenzo Brown still on the sidelines injured – is the reason that Maccabi had a chance to win the game in the last quarter, especially with 15 of his points coming in the last frame.
Baldwin reflected on the game: “I’m happy that our will brought us back and made it a game, because at that point of the game, down 16 multiple times, it’s very easy to give up. I’m very happy that we found a way to compete to the end and it came down to a free-throw match and they made it.”
Baldwin also drew 12 fouls, going to the line 15 times. However, he was only able to convert on 10 of those shots, of which he was critical of himself after the game.
“If I make some more free throws then we may win the game. I think the plays I made were the right plays to make and trying to get our team back. I’m always going to try my hardest to try to help my team compete until the end and give everything that I have to try to capture the win. That’s what I tried to do today, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.”
Captain John DiBartolomeo (2 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal) also had praise for his teammate: “Wade is one of our main creators, one of our leaders, who was having a good day. You know, he was hot. We try to play off him anyway, he’s creating for us good. Offensively, he kept us in the game. The problem is the other things.”
The Bad: The Defense
Before the game, Maccabi coach Oded Katash commented on how one of the positives of the first fixture of the season between the teams was the defense, with Red Star winning that encounter in a low scoring game, 69-68. Last night Maccabi was on par to equal their score from that game, with 34 points in the first half. However, Red Star was on a different level offensively, equaling their total from the previous game by the end of the third quarter last night. That came down to the lack of defensive intensity from the Yellow & Blue.
One only needs to look at the rebounding statistics to see that: Red Star won the total rebound count 33-27, however they pulled down 14 offensive rebounds, which is indicative of Maccabi’s lack of aggressiveness on defense, giving them multiple chances to score when they had the ball.
Katash summarized this post-game: “They controlled the first half offensively and defensively. We knew exactly what they do on defense and we came with a game plan, but we couldn’t really execute. At the end of the day, they fought us for 16 turnovers, they made a lot of easy baskets out of it. Second half, smaller lineups, they punished us on offensive rebounds – that was the game.”
“On rebounds, it was clear to us that it would be a very aggressive game, we’d have to control the rebounds, it’s something that we usually do well,” Katash said after the game. “But they beat us on the rebounds – I think they had 14 offensive rebounds – that’s where we lost the game.”
This wasn’t just the responsibilities of the bigs (who had little impact on the game), as Baldwin was quick to confess: “Just the paint presence, I think that the guards, we played a small lineup, we played a big lineup, guards, bigs, all responsible for the second chance points.”
Special mention also needs to be given to Nedovic. While it was not his best game at Yad Eliyahu – which came in December 2020 while playing for Panathinaikos, when he scored 39 points and made 7 3-pointers – Maccabi wasn’t able to stop him last night. Some of his shots came with hands in his face, but on others he was given way to much room for such a talented player.
“Nedovic did what he is capable of doing, being a very elite scorer,” Baldwin said. “He started off with two bombed 3s, which made him feel very cozy in the game.”
DiBartolomeo also had praise for the Serbian guard: “I think offensively he’s extremely, extremely talented. He got going early, so it becomes very difficult to guard. I don’t know what it is about this gym, but he was very good tonight.”
The Ugly: Little mistakes
On Wednesday, Jalen Adams (9 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists and 1 steal) talked about aggravating the team’s losses have been this season: “It’s very frustrating, especially with the ones where you’re in the game and it’s a close game and you make one or two mistakes in the fourth quarter and it costs you.”
Unfortunately, there were lots of mistakes throughout the game by the Yellow & Blue last night. The biggest one for me was after Maccabi got to within 6 points midway through the last quarter. Mitrovic scored a basket to put Red Star up 67-75. Baldwin inbounded to DiBartolomeo, who did not realize that Luca Vildoza (10 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal) was standing behind him. The Argentinean national team made an easy steal – one of 16 turnovers for the game – and made an easy layup and within only 6 seconds, the deficit was stretched from 6 points to 10 points.
It was just one of 16 turnovers for Maccabi throughout the game, but perhaps it’s a little too harsh to be critical of the last stretch of the game, when Maccabi had come back from being 16 points down multiple times, including at the beginning of the last quarter.
“I think even though we came back from down 16 in the end and we had a small chance to win the game, I think we lost it in the first half – we were not patient enough and we were too nervous,” Katash reflected.
“Like you said – they played better than us for longer,” DiBartolomeo said to the press. “We tried to make our run at the end, came up a little short. Near the end of game, you can’t play hard for 5-10 minutes – you’ve got to play hard for closer to 40.”
Up Next: State Cup Week
It’s State Cup Week in Jerusalem, where four of the top-flight Israeli Winner League teams will be competing for the season’s first trophy! On Monday evening, Maccabi (13-3, 1st place in the Winner League) plays against Ironi Nes Ziona (8-8, equal 6th place) in the first semi-final (18:00 IST; 11:00 EST), followed by Hapoel Jerusalem (9-6, 4th place) against Hapoel Haifa (6-9, 9th place) in the second semi-final (20:45 IST; 13:45 EST). The winners will play against each other for the Cup on Thursday night.
For a team whose fanbase expects it to win trophies every season, it’s a big week ahead. This is something that Katash is well aware of: “We need to recover from the loss. We have a very important task – we’re coming into a week which is critical if we want to fulfil our goals for this year. We need to recover quickly and raise our heads, which isn’t easy to do, but we’ll do it.”
“This is the chance to compete for three titles,” Baldwin said, reiterating Maccabi’s lofty goals for the season. “You do your Cup title, you still have your EuroLeague title and you have the Israeli Championship title. This is one step that we have to make in order to receive our first title of the year, so it’s important.”
“Starting tomorrow, when we prepare for the Cup, we have to get over the loss to Red Star – not forgotten, of course – we need to learn from it,” DiBartolomeo said “We have to come with full focus, full energy and full attention for the Cup.”