It’s clear that Maccabi Tel Aviv are having issues starting games off, especially at the home away from home in Belgrade. Two straight games the yellow-and-blue couldn’t find the energy to play a lick of defense and gave up points a plenty over the opening twenty minutes against Olympiacos and Fenerbahce.
51 first half points to the Greeks was just way too much to overcome as they fell 79-74, while 46 points to the Turkish squad spotted them a very good start but apparently Oded Katash’s halftime talk was enough to light a fire under Maccabi to lockdown on D and find a way to split the Euroleague Double Week with a 78-73 victory.
Finding that energy will be the key to may a win this season especially playing in an empty arena in Serbia.
“It’s not the start that we wanted,” Bonzie Colson said. “We didn’t have the energy and didn’t stick to the game plan on both sides of the court.”
Katash spoke about what had been a disastrous start to Olympiacos and what the team had wanted to do after the loss, “We talked about wanting to be consistent after the Olympiacos game with our energy. We came out with the right energy but we were nervous on both sides of the floor with a lot of mistakes.”
While most of the players including Colson and the bench boss himself said nothing much went on during the break, Lorenzo Brown apparently let the cart out of the bag.
From Colson’s “we had a good talk in the lockerroom and coach said to play fluid, be ourselves, don’t overthink and just hoop”, to Katash’s “I told the guys to relax a little bit, we just gave up possessions and we didn’t play our game. We went back to our basics,” it was clear it had to be a bit more than that with how the players reacted when they returned to action after the 15 minute break.
Brown was succinct and straight to the point about the halftime proceedings, “Coach got on us at halftime and told us that we needed to boost up energy and that kind of sunk into our heads, we took the approach as a team and got it done.”
While the halftime talk and comeback worked against Fenerbahce, it’s not always guaranteed that this will be the case and that as seen already against Olympiacos. Without the proper focus and energy coming out before the game begins, Maccabi could be in for some very long nights on occasion.
Fenerbahce came into the game in an unideal situation with injuries and the like not playing their best basketball despite featuring one of the best rosters in the league. Maccabi was able to make them pay with a good second half that saw clamping down on defense and a stellar half by Colson with all of his 13 points coming over the final twenty minutes to go along with 14 rebounds to boot.
“I didn’t know he had 14 rebounds,” Brown said of Colson following the game. “But it was a lot of missed shots and tip-ins but that is what he does, he’s active on the offensive end and the defensive end. When he puts his mind to it he can be an elite rebounder in this league.”
The defeat to Olympiacos was a massive missed opportunity and Maccabi knows it. There will be very few times that a Georgios Bartzokas team will come into a game still trying to find their way after the departures of Sasha Vezenkov and Kostas Sloukas to go along with an injury that knocked Nigel Williams-Goss out of the game in the 3rd quarter while also losing Alec Peters after half-time to five fouls. Those are chances that come around once in a lifetime and they can’t be wasted which unfortunately was the case this time around.
The second half change made sure that the Fenerbahce game would not be wasted especially with Wade Baldwin back in the lineup after a long and exhausting week for the guard and his partner, a week that should have never been as it was for the star guard.
Baldwin hit four straight free throws down the stretch of the game to lock up the win and despite his poor shooting from the field going 2/14, he still finished the game with 12 points, 4 boards, 5 assists and 4 steals.
“Free throws by Baldwin was a big help for our team,” Brown stated as he along withe the rest of the squad was happy to have #5 back in the saddle after having not had him for the first month and change due to a back injury and then for the game earlier in the week.
There is no question that with a full complement of players available to Katash’s Maccabi, then the the sky’s the limit against any opponent as Colson explained, “Fenerbahce is a talented club. We stuck to our principles on both sides of the floor especially in the second half and we got stops when we needed to which just shows the character of this group. We just got to keep getting better and play our game. We got stops, big shots and we stayed together that shows the chemistry and identity of our group.”
James Webb who had a number of important baskets and finished the game with the highest efficiency rating backed his teammate up, “We picked up our energy, played defense, they still made a couple of tough shots but we stuck together and played our game. We can’t let this situation define us as a team and we have to keep fighting, stick together and keep playing.”
All in all it was a successful evening for Maccabi which could have easily ended up the other way around. Splitting a Double Week is always good and it was good enough to move the yellow-and-blue’s record to 5-3. Sure they could have been 6-2 but they could have also easily had been 4-4 which would have put the heat on in Belgrade.
Up next is a trio of home dates for the yellow-and-blue with Barcelona coming into Serbia next week followed by a pair of games against the undefeated Real Madrid and Alba Berlin to finish off the month. There is no reason to think that Maccabi can’t go 2-1 in those three games as Barcelona has also been going through some changes within the club that now features a new coach and some new recruits.
But should they want to ensure that they begin the upcoming stretch of games on the right foot, they will have to start the games off the right way in an empty arena, because at this point in time they have no other choice should they want to reach the Euroleague promised land.