Maccabi Tel Aviv needed overtime to slip by Panathinaikos 86-81in Athens to get back onto the winning track and move their Euroleague record to 2-1. The yellow-and-blue had fallen to Valencia earlier in the week, however, that was the club’s first game in two weeks since the outset of the Iron Swords War.
The foreign players departed the Holy Land almost immediately after the attack by Hamas on the Israeli communities in the Gaza Periphery on Simchat Torah saw the terrorists slaughter more than 1,400 Israelis, injure 4,000 and kidnap over 200 people. The Sabras joined their teammates in Cyprus just a few days prior to the Valencia game and definitely showed plenty of rust in a lackluster 75-66 loss.
But Head Coach Oded Katash’s squad put that defeat behind them very quickly as they came out roaring like a lion to grab a 20-15 thanks to points from Bonzie Colson and a pair of triples by captain John Dibartolomeo. Tamir Blatt started to hit his shots from deep, Kostas Antetokounmpo kept the hosts close, but Colson took the bull by the horns and Blatt nailed a 3-pointer right at the end of the half to send Maccabi into the break with a 39-24 advantage.
Lorenzo Brown started to heat up for the visitors as they looked to create more of a gap, but Panathinaikos head coach Ergin Ataman was ejected which inspired Konstantinos Mitoglou and Marius Grigonis from the home team but Brown and Dibartolomeo went from long distance to stay in front 57-49 after thirty minutes of action.
Luca Vildoza made an impact for the hosts with a quartet of triples while Mitoglou also scored to give Panathinaikos a late lead but Josh Nebo came up huge as a he grabbed a missed free throw by Roman Sorkin and put the ball off the glass with just seconds remaining in regulation to send the game into overtime all knotted up at 72-72.
In the extra session, Maccabi took control of the game once more as Antonius Cleveland made plays at both ends of the court while Colson kept scoring and Blatt and Brown hit their free throws to seal the deal.
Colson paced the yellow-and-blue with 21 points and 8 rebounds, Brown added 12 points and 12 assists which marked a Maccabi Euroleague record while Dibartolomeo scored 15 points and grabbed 9 boards in the win. Vildoza scored 15 points and Grigonis scored 13 points in the loss.
There’s no question that Maccabi picked up their play after a rough go in Valencia and clearly focussed on one thing for the 45 minutes of play, basketball, “Like I said after the Valencia game,” Katash began, “basketball comes second in these tough days for us. Two days ago we weren’t there with the right energy. When we had a team meeting in the morning before the game and we would be focussed on what we do best, play basketball.”
“The last two weeks weren’t easy for us, we promised ourselves that we were going to show and to focus on basketball. I am very happy and proud of the guys that we succeeded today. It’s never easy to win here especially now, we stepped up to the occasion and I am very happy about that.”
Lorenzo Brown echoed the bench boss’s thoughts, “We had to focus on basketball, it’s been tough for us these past two weeks, without playing games and barely practicing but I’m very proud of our guys, we came together and got this tough win in a tough atmosphere against a tough team. That’s what is most important, we’re figuring out this battle with whatever is going on and we will keep pushing on.”
Playing for one another on the court and supporting each other off of it during this trying time was key for the yellow-and-blue in order to comeback with not only a solid performance but also when it came to pulling out the win in overtime.
“I feel great and it was a great team win,” the game’s MVP Bonzie Colson said. “Shout out to Pao, they gave us a tough battle but we stuck with our principles on both sides of the floor. It was a great team effort and I’m happy we got this win. We played together no matter what happened and guys came ready to play. We got great offensive rebounds, we defended really well and we made shots when we needed to.”
Katash knew full well that sticking together was going to be what would help the team during this tumultuous time, “We came out with different energy, we helped each other and supported each other. I’m very proud of the guys about the W.”
Maccabi will now have some time off before they head to Nice and play Monaco on Thursday October 26th and from there it will be onto Milan the following Tuesday while the big question will be where the game against Real Madrid slated for November 2nd will be played. This matchup is supposed to take place in Tel Aviv but with the current situation unfolding in Israel, that seems to be unlikely and either switch home dates or finding another locale to play will be on tap. Options may include Cyprus or a current Euroleague city.
But as Katash explained, two weeks right now is far, far off for the club in this ever changing situation, “We know as much as you guys know, we will have to wait and see. We can’t really plan two weeks ahead, we support each other on the court and off the court as well. I wish that something could happen and change the situation really quickly but we will have to wait and see.”
With the country looking for some good news and many Maccabi fans in the military having a chance to watch the game from the bases in the south, Katash was happy that his team was able to give them a but of comfort during these trying times.
“Hopefully we gave some joy to the people of Israel, I’m really happy that we could give this W to the fans. If we made some people happy back home that is the least that we could do. Winning and losing basketball is second right now. If we were able to succeed to lift the people up a little bit that’s our small part in this tough situation.”
“I’m not going to get into politics, I will just say the situation and what happened two weeks ago on October 7th was horrible, it was a big thing, it was just not some other terror attack it was bigger. We are living now in the country and even though we are not there right now, every second is with the people back home, a war situation is never easy. I wish we can all live in peace and solidarity all over the world. It’s a terrible feeling but we, as we try and do in sports are Israelis and we never give up and we will win.”