This was embarrassing. Really, really, really brutally embarrassing. It didn’t take long to see where this game was heading as Maccabi Tel Aviv dug themselves a big first quarter hole that they were never able to climb out of as Milano put the smackdown on the Yellow & Blue to run away with an 83-72 victory.
Don’t let the score and stat sheet fool you, this game was much, much uglier than the final score would indicate it was as Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad played absolutely no defense. None whatsoever giving up 52 first half points. Sure they held the hosts to 30 points in the second half but let’s be honest the game was already in Ettore Messina’s back pocket by that point and while the Italian maestro was not happy with the way his team played near the end the game was done, well done at that point.
“I think we had to expect what happened. They became much more physical, became very rough, very difficult to officiate on both sides. There were a lot of difficulties in moving the ball and we sometimes overdribbled but we made some important plays and our defense, overall, was very good,” Messina said.
The game MVP Konstantinos Mitoglou didn’t dwell on Milano’s second half performance too much as it seems they took the pedal off the metal knowing full well it’s a double week with a wounded EFES coming into town, “In the second half, we relaxed a little bit, but we maintained the difference and are happy about it.”
Sfairopoulos could have used his bench a bit better as the Israeli contingent didn’t see much of the floor as John DiBartolomeo led the way with 9 minutes, Roman Sorkin clocked in at 2:28, Iftach Ziv 42 seconds and Jake Cohen ended the game with a goose egg and a total of 1 point from the Blue & White’s.
Scottie Wilbekin had a rough go offensively as did Kameron Taylor who received his first significant Euroleague playing time with 15 minutes and no points along with Angelo Caloiaro who in 25 minutes took a grand total of 2 shots and didn’t score a point. That just can’t happen especially from one of your starters.
From shot clock violations, to the big men collecting 4 fouls a piece by early in the third quarter and not calling timely timeouts when momentum could have been halted, left Maccabi really little chance to find a way to win this game against one of last season’s Final Four participants.
It looked like a Balkan League team facing a Euroleague club early on as nothing worked for Maccabi as Scottie Wilbekin was nowhere to be found until it was too late. However, wasn’t this version of Maccabi built so they would not be reliant on the guard?
And that is exactly the point where Messina made sure to expose, locking down Wilbekin and not give him one centimeter to hurt his team, “I think Malcolm [Delaney] did a great job on Wilbekin, with the help of his teammates. He was, of course, public enemy number one after the performance that he had.”
By shutting down Wilbekin and following their game plan, Milano made sure to come out ready to roll said Mitoglou, “We started the game very strong. We were very ready mentally and physically, very prepared.”
Maccabi weren’t there mentally or physically at the beginning of the game and they can’t afford to start any Euroleague tilt the way that they did the past two contests. They don’t have the wherewithal at this point to be able to go down by double digits in the first quarter and expect to comeback. Last week they were using 10-0 before the fans had even gotten settled into their seats.
“For sure this is not how we wanted to start the game. We couldn’t find our rhythm in the 1st half,” James Nunnally explained.
But it wasn’t just the rhythm. It was nowhere near just that. Maccabi did not commit on either side of the floor, “I think that, in the first half, we played very bad on both ends of the court, defense and offense. We didn’t execute on offense. The truth is that we missed some open shots but in general, we had moments that offensively we were not good. Of course, defensively, we received easy baskets. They scored 52 points with over 68% [shooting] from two in the first half. It was very hard to stay in the game.”
Playing the way Maccabi did over the first twenty minutes is not the way you are going to gain any friends, other than from the opposing team.
Derrick Williams finally got rolling which was at least something on this dark evening and maybe, just maybe Maccabi showed enough over the final two frame to shed some light on the situation where they can look each other in the eyes and say, maybe, just maybe we can do something here.
Sfairopoulos took that fact as the only positive from the game, “It is important that we reacted in the middle of the game and it was good that’s what happened. It was positive that we came back but we have to come out and play the next game as we finished this one.”
“I think that in the 2nd half we showed that we can be better,” James Nunnally reflected. We played more aggressive and when shots fall in, we can put pressure on our opponent and come back to the game. We will improve each and every day.”
Williams also spoke about the second half of play, “I think we stepped up in the second half. The ball went in and we fought hard. We have a long way to go but the last part of the game gave me confidence that we will get better and better starting the game on Thursday.”
Well, Thursday will be another story against a 3-0 ASVEL Villeurbanne team that is looking mighty fine after downing Anadolu EFES 75-73 on a last second dunk by Kostas Antetokounmpo to win the game. And how did former Maccabi guard Chris Jones do? How about 16 points for the French team as he continue to flourish in what seems to be a system that he is thriving in. The last thing Sfairopoulos will want to see happen is Jones, the guard who was jettisoned from the squad give a repeat performance that we all saw from Nate Wolters with Red Star.
Maccabi will need to find a way to pull it together on both ends of the floor or else the next contest will end the same way that this one did; with another defeat and a 1-3 record putting the head coach in a very precarious situation.
Is the ASVEL game a do or die matchup for Maccabi so early in the season? It’s never easy to dig out of a hole and this season is already starting to look like a carbon copy of the last one. The Yellow & Blue have to turn it around or else they may be at the point of no return.