Oh, what a beautiful mornin’,
Oh, what a beautiful day.
I got a beautiful feelin’
Ev’erything’s goin’ my way.
– From the Musical Oklahoma
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Wednesday morning and that of their fans was no doubt a more than beautiful one after defeating Monaco 79-67 and taking a 1-0 lead in their Euroleague best of five quarterfinal series.
When you visit places like Nice or Monaco one can feel something very special in the air. There just seems to be a sense of Joie De Vivre, a joy to life that is indescribable. Whether it’s one walking through the streets, by the water or along the beach, there’s a true sensation of serenity of peace and tranquility.
The Maccabi Tel Aviv fans who were in Monte Carlo’s Salle Gaston Medecin made sure that they put their mark on Monaco, the game and of course to treat the locals to what yellow-and-blue basketball is all about.
From the minute the gates to the arena were opened, the supporters from Israel came barrelling in with song and dance from Hava Nagilla to Hatikva just as if they were at a home game back at Yad Eliyahu.
Flags filled the stands by the Maccabi bench as the supporters sung out each players song to the delight of the participants on the court as they responded with the clapping of their hands in utter shock and awe as to how they have the best fans in the Euroleague.
Despite it being a holiday, that of Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut, they left their home country to support their heroes on the road wherever they may be.
“Kodem Kol, Yom Haatzmaut Sameach,” Jake Cohen said in the lockerroom following the contest. “It was amazing. The excitement level, the energy level, all those Israelis in there, that was amazing. I think it got us on to such a great start, to feel their support, feel their love. My adrenalin level tonight was crazy. I’m sure all the guys were feeling the same way. It was a lot of fun to play in that game with that kind of support. You know, it felt like Tel Aviv 2.0 out there.”
— Sports Rabbi (@thesportsrabbi) April 25, 2023
Bonzie Colson who may be in his rookie Euroleague season but is nowhere near being a first year player in the continent’s best basketball league also couldn’t believe the support, “The fans were great. There’s nothing like seeing that yellow in the stands cheering us on. Like I said, we have the best fans in the Euroleague and we feed off the energy.”
The head coach who was the architect of the game one victory didn’t take the fan support for granted whatsoever, “The crowd was amazing. Everyone speaks about the atmosphere at Yad Eliyahu but look at what was here. The players really were pushed by the fans and the flags in the stands really made Yom Haatzmaut special.”
Wade Baldwin who led the way with 20 points always seems to find the right words to describe the situation to a “T” and did so yet again, “As soon as we ran out there, it felt like a home game. That’s what we need. We’ve struggled on the road all year, we have great support from the fans. We came out with a very aggressive game plan inside the locker room, inside the guys, we were able to get the first game. We’ve got two more to win, one on Thursday we have to take care of.”
Winning again in Monaco won’t be an easy task, getting a split on the road in the opening two games would have been something Katash would have signed up to before the series began. With one win in the bag he is well aware that while he will be playing with house money in game two before returning to Israel, Sasa Obradovic’s team will make the necessary adjustments and find a way to get his team back onto the winning track and into the series. If he doesn’t, this 5 game set may be done in a very quick 3.
“We expected a very aggressive series and while people thought playing Monaco was going to be a good matchup for us but I know that this is going to be a tough series for us. Our defensive plan worked in game one and we were able to do what we needed to in a small and tough arena but we know that they will make adjustments for game two. We are very happy now but in an hour we have to start working on game two.”
It’s not everyday that Obradovic’s charges will shoot an absolutely abysmal 4/26 from beyond the arc with Elie Okobo, Jordan Loyd and Mike James going a combined 2/18 from downtown. Ouch. Maccabi’s defense was suffocating and aggressive to the point that Monaco did not seem ready for it and neither were the referees who called 28 fouls on the yellow-and-blue to the hosts 19 while sending them to the line an incomprehensible 28 times by the end of the third quarter to just 13 for the visitors.
“We have to forget this one and the next will be different. We have to be smarter and have a plan and not just play with heart. It will be different in the second game,” the Monaco bench boss said.
“I think we did a good job of making them look uncomfortable,” Cohen explained. “They’re really good offensive players and you can’t just let them play with space and time, that was our gameplan. Try to take them out of the comfort zone and I think we did that. Maybe we were a little too eager with some of our fouls, but at the end of the day, we held them to 60-something points, so that’s mission accomplished.”
Alex Poythress who recently made his return to the squad after having hand surgery also chimed in on the secret to Maccabi’s success, “There were a lot of fouls, but we stood up, played our defense and were aggressive. We held them to 60-something points, that’s great defensively. We won every quarter too. So if we come out with the same aggression on Thursday, we should be ok. We cannot stop being aggressive.”
“We both want to make adjustments,” Colson said. “Nothing’s going to be easy. But we’ve just got to watch film, continue to improve and just stay hungry. I think we just have to continue the momentum that we have and understand that nothing’s going to be easy.”
While Maccabi came out with the win, the first couple of minutes were a bit shaky with a number of turnovers and a chance for Monaco to gain the momentum and the early upper hand, but that was before Colson nailed a pair of 3-pointers to ensure that there was no runaway lead from the hosts at at the midway point of the first frame the game was all knotted up at 8-8.
Not bad for a rookie.
“Bonzie has been great for us all season long,” Katash said. “He is always out there taking rebounds and playing tough defense while making big baskets when the team really needed them. He plays with a lot of heart, he really did a great job, now it’s on to game two.”
Poythress added, “Bonzie was great today for us. He made shots early, stretched the defense out. Everyone played well today, helped us. Bonzie included. He brings a lot of energy and we need that from him.”
“The first two or three possessions weren’t great for us,” Cohen noted. “But we settled back in. Bonzie was huge to calm us down a little bit. Just seeing those first couple of shots go in takes a lot of pressure off the guys, knowing that we can make shots here, we’re in this game, we’re here to play, so he deserved a lot of credit for getting that start. Once we get settled in, then the rest of our guys can do what they do best.”
The key to his Colson’s success through his eyes? “Just trying to stay within myself, be ready to catch and shoot, make plays as best as I can on both sides of the floor. The guys give me confidence that I can do that, so just staying consistent as best as I can.”
As the game to a conclusion, the fans all around Maccabi started to dream just a bit more of what may be should they take game two then game three back at home and then make their way to Kaunas for the Final Four. Will this be a repeat of 2014, will this be the beginning of a dynasty where the club won back-to-back Euroleague titles in 2004/05?
One this is for certain, Baldwin who inked a 2-year contract extension right before heading to Monaco knows exactly what type of team he is a part of as he continues to write the story of Maccabi Tel Aviv version 2.0 as Jake Cohen said.
“It’s beautiful to be part of this club. I’ve got to thank the guys that paved the way before me, the Tyrese Rices, the Anthony Parkers, Doron Perkins, Pargos, Wilbekins – these guys paved the way for me to do what I do and I came in here and stepped in here and played a big role in the success, and I’m happy to keep it going and continue here for more years.”