DIDN’T DESERVE TO WIN
For the second time in as many games, Maccabi Tel Aviv started well and then sputtered to a disappointing end as they fell to ASVEL Villeurbanne 74-67. However, this time the loss came at home in front of their own fans whereas last Thursday’s defeat took place in an empty Pionir arena in Belgrade against Red Star. The Yellow & Blue looked as they have all season long, consistently inconsistent. If it was Elijah Bryant who finished the game with only 5 points and has only notched double digits in 16 games, exactly half of the games he has played in or Angelo Caloairo who put up no points and is averaging just 6 points per game or Scottie Wilbekin who is sitting with just 32.2% from long distance or the next man up who has had an inconsistent season; Maccabi has guaranteed that they will not end the season with a winning streak of more then 2 games in a row.
A Yellow & Blue team that is shooting only 4/20 from 3-point range on their home court just isn’t going to win. As one fo the Maccabi brass said, if we hit 3-4 of those shots we win the game. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad fell again and this time in front of 3,000 fans who cheered their team on non-stop throughout the contest. “Today I think we fought only in the first period and the last part of the fourth quarter,” explained the coach. “We talked in halftime to react and play better, but again we had a lack of good options on offense and also a lack of energy on defense and they controlled the game. I think that today we didn’t have the energy that we needed… We didn’t deserve to win.”
Chris Jones who is playing in his first Euroleague season noted that the team’s energy level was very low despite the backing of the fans, “I feel like energy was the main problem and our defense should lead our offense. Inconsistency on our part and it’s been like that all year. We beat the number one team and no knock on Red Star but then we go and play how we played there, it’s frustrating.”
Lastly, Elijah Bryant talk about the campaign being one that has not gone the way the club would have liked, “It’s been a tough season. In life not everyday is going to be perfect and we only have tomorrow to look forward to. It’s disappointing that we didn’t make the playoffs and we have to move on. We haven’t scored at a consistent rate and we have to look at ourselves, all of us.”
HANGING IN THE BALANCE
There’s been a a lot of talk about next season, who will come and who will go as everyone is already thinking about the 2021/22 Euroleague campaign. However, Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos is keeping his thoughts close to his vest as there is still a few months left to go for this team with the Israel State Cup and the Israeli League championship still hanging in the balance. “It’s too early to talk about next season”, the coach stated. “We will fight for our goals, the Cup and league championship until the end.”
Those are two big items left on this year’s shopping list and Sfairopoulos knows full well that he will need to make sure his team is focussed on those goals going forward. Of course, he wants to end the Euroleague season as best as possible but he’s going to need the players to buy in and just want the next two games more than Khimki and Zenit. “We will look at the total picture of the season later as we have another 2.5 months left in this season. I’m thinking of these two games right now in the Euroleague.”
Red Star and ASVEL certainly wanted the to win more than Maccabi and when sitting in the press conference room in the bowels of Yad Eliyahu one couldn’t miss the excitement and joy coming from the Villeurbanne players lockerroom; that was one happy bunch of campers. Don’t the Maccabi players want to finish off on a high note especially in their last home game on Tuesday? Perhaps the fans really don’t make such a difference as they cheered non-stop today and yet Maccabi was flat as pancake. How will the coach make sure his squad is ready to go after the Euroleague campaign is officially done? “We are Maccabi,” the bench boss stated. “We have to play for all of the goals and we are here to win as many titles as we can. We have to fight for the next two goals that we have. It’s a difficult job and we have to focus on the next two games first.” Is there a fear that once the continental campaign is done that so too will be Maccabi? That could be the case and the staff is going to have a big, big job on their hands.
Norris Cole made a triumphant return to Yad Eliyahu to lead his team to the victory. With 17 points and 4 assists, Cole was the only player on the ASVEL stat sheet that hit double digits. As it always seems to happen when a former Maccabi player makes his return to his old stooging ground they rekindle the fire and spirit they experienced while wearing the Yellow & Blue and once again that was the case with Old King Cole who was a merry old soul.
“We had a good team effort. We executed well. I felt great; it feels great to be back here in front of the Gate, in front of the crowd. It was good to get a win. We had a lot of energy. I had a lot of energy. I was excited to be back [in Tel Aviv]. I’ve shot a lot of shots on these rims, so it felt good. And our team, we wanted to bounce back. We didn’t play well last game, so we wanted to bounce back as a team.” Cole’s coach TJ Parker also spoke highly of his leader, “He was excited to be back here and when the game is on the line, he’s been our go to guy. We saw that tonight that the whole team played well. Four fouls or not, I trust him. He’s not going to make a foul, he stays on the court.”
ONE TO WATCH
A good word must be said about a Maccabi Tel Aviv rumored target Guerschon Yabusele. The former Boston Celtics first round draft pick and 16th overall in 2016 looked mighty fine for ASVEL as he showed a ton of fire, passion and strength and desire in his 28 minutes on the court. 9 points (2/4 from 3) and 10 assists were impressive but just his presence was even more so. Whether it was diving for the ball, going hard to the basket or playing tough D, the 25-year old is coming into his own and then some. He’s definitely one to watch.