There’s no question that having home court advantage in any playoff series is a huge plus for any team that is trying to get to the next level of a competition. Just ask Maccabi Tel Aviv and Monaco about that.
It was crystal clear as to how critical that one extra game was in their Euroleague quarterfinal series that the Principality’s team won 3-2 with the home team now having a perfect record of 18-0 in game fives across the board since the institution of the best-of-5 series a number of years ago. Just this season alone the hosts went 3-0 in the pivotal matchup which was no question a key to each and everyone of those team’s success.
Monaco knew full well how important having the decisive game of the series at the Salle Gaston Medicin would be after having fallen to Olympiacos last season in a game five at the Peace and Friendship Arena in Piraeus. With that in mind home court became an obsession for Sasa Obradovic’s squad knowing that a 1st to 4th place finish would give them three of the five games on their home court.
And of course what do you know? All of the top four teams in the standings punched their ticket to the Final Four in Kaunas.
Now it’s not that Monaco’s fans are the greatest in the world in a facility that seats a shade under 5,000, but when a team is at home, they can dictate how many from the opposing team’s supporters can enter the arena.
The host controls the Public Address Announcer who can interfere with the visiting fan chants which is exactly what Monaco did in game five as well as game two after they had seen how much of an effect and influence that the yellow-and-blue supporters had in game one helping Katash’s team to the win. They can also decide what is played on the sound system, when a certain cheer will begin and every time the Maccabi fans tried to get things going they were thoroughly drowned out by the man with the microphone.
“Of course when you play at the Euroleague level home court advantage is critical,” Katash said. “We knew the game was going to be 50/50 and we knew that the calls wouldn’t always go in our favor. We were there for manny minutes of the game, we were there, but it’s not that simple.”
While the referees definitely didn’t decide the game, they also are human beings who will be influenced by their surroundings. That goes for a team of refs in Athens, Istanbul, Barcelona and especially Tel Aviv. There are tough courts to call games and Monaco understood that they needed to ratchet up the music a notch to give their home gym a real home town feel. And that’s what they did.
“I wouldn’t say the home court advantage was critical,” Lorenzo Brown began. “I thought we played well to be on the road. It just came down to those late game fouls. Obviously we could’ve done a lot of things better offensively, I felt like we had them where we wanted to have them. Hopefully, that’s the plan [to get home court next year].”
“I don’t want to get into it about the refs, but you know, it was… I think there were fouls towards the end that we could’ve gotten a little more as well on our end. I know Wade drove a couple of times and there weren’t any fouls called. Like I said, could’ve been both ways, but it wasn’t, you know how it is.”
Baldwin also spoke about the officiating on some of those non-calls which we not called in his favor, “I believe I’m a difficult player to officiate, with my strength and speed. You have to be sharp with the calls.”
Someone who was very, very sharp was the Prince of Monaco, Albert II who was in attendance as were the police and security teams who weren’t going to give not one inch to anyone related to Maccabi in any way shape or form in an arena that felt like it was 100 degrees with cheerleaders that looked like they were out of a Las Vegas review. There’s no question that Monaco’s management pulled out all of the stops.
There was going to be no way they were going to lose on their home floor in the game that would and them to Kaunas, Lithuania and when Maccabi snatched a 79-76 lead in the final frame and Mike James had gotten injured, tighter calls were made, Jordan Loyd was the major benefactor on a pair of 3-pointers on which he was fouled and that was that. 56 seconds later and with five minutes remaining in regulation Loyd collected 8 points, gave Monaco the lead that they wouldn’t relinquish and that was that.
Monaco learnt what they needed to do in order to get to the Promised Land, hopefully Maccabi took that lesson to heart and when their next opportunity comes around they will be aiming for the same goal.
“Home court is a big factor,” Maccabi forward Jake Cohen explained. “But I don’t think that was the deciding factor. I think we played well enough to win this game in moments, but not in all the moments, so we definitely have stuff to learn from.”
Learn they definitely will as Maccabi Tel Aviv certainly did much better than anyone expected this season in Euroleague action. Finishing in 5th place with an entirely new squad and new coach is no easy task but that’s what Oded Katash was able to get out of his roster which was an incredible accomplishment. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it, Katash did a phenomenal job with the team he had at his fingertips.
Was there the expectation that the yellow-and-blue should end the regular season in a playoff spot? Yes, there was no question about that. But it’s also how Maccabi was able to finish off the campaign with a 7-1 record with the one defeat being like a win because with a loss of 1-point in the second to last round of games to Zalgiris, they were able to clinch a place in the postseason.
Whether it was Wade Baldwin, Lorenzo Brown or Bonzie Colson as well as the rest of the squad, they all raised their level of play when it came to money time.
As tight as regular season games are, when it comes to the postseason the level moves up yet another number of notches explained Cohen, “The margin for error in these kinds of games are very small, so any kind of mistake is going to get punished. Monaco is a very good team, they’ve showed that from the start of this season, even from last season, that they’re a really good team.”
“I think we can be proud of what we accomplished in this Euroleague season. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough to advance to the Final Four and it’s something to learn from and I think if there’s something we can see in this Euroleague, it’s that it takes time, there’s a process to being an elite club in Europe. I think we’re well on our way and I hope we can continue.”
While the future may be bright, Unfortunately right now in the present there had to be a loser in this series which was a spectacular one that saw each game having a life of its own. No two games were similar or alike.
“Somebody had to win,” Brown said. “It came down to late game fouls, silly fouls, in my opinion. Loyd got to the line with three fouls from the three-point line and that kind of separated us at the end in the last three minutes. Just got to be solid and live with those long-distance shots.”
What was consistent was that the games Monaco won were the ones that Jordan Loyd went off and was a major factor in the club’s victories whether it was game 2, game 3 or game 5. Loyd went all in when his team needed him as the NBA champ showed why he was able to capture a ring with the Toronto Raptors.
An interesting note about Loyd is that while he didn’t really feature at all in the finals against Golden State, he had the job of playing as Steph Curry during the lead up and practices in that series. That was definitely a lot of fun.
But not just fun, also learning how one of the best in the business operates as he mimicked his every move, his every groove, his shot from downtown, how he lands after taking that shot and understanding very well how the greatest pure shooter of our time does it.
With 8 points in 56 seconds off a free throws from getting fouled behind the arc and a triple as well, Loyd couldn’t have played more Curry than Curry himself.
That experience made him into an even better player and one that has worked his way up the Euroleague ladder, reaching the furthest in continental play that he has ever made it. Every stop on his way whether it was Valencia, Zenit St. Petersburg or Red Star, enhanced his continental play and that led him to signing with Monaco for a chance at European glory.
“I didn’t know that,” Loyd said of his 8 points in under a minute. “I knew what the mismatches I thought I had, I wanted to try to get to my jumper and things like that, so I’m always confident in that. I was fortunate to hit a three and then hit some free throws, even though I missed a couple. When Mike [James] went out, I wanted to take it upon myself and Elie [Okobo] also did a good job at closing. So it was good.”
By circling back to home court, Loyd understood full well that having the last game in the Principality was key and those 8 points perhaps don’t happen on the road.
“I believe it, Loyd continued. “This is my first playoffs, but I know for a fact that we wouldn’t want to go to Tel Aviv for a game 5, no one would. So that work we put in all season, the regular season, our fans, the boost they gave us, I’m just happy to pay them back.”
While only 100 Maccabi fans or so were in attendance instead of over 11,000 which would have been in Tel Aviv should game five been in Israel, they made their presence felt as much as they could despite being quite small in number and constantly having to battle Monaco’s PA announcer. They would go “MACCABI” and he would go full volume “MONACO”.
“You don’t get a lot of dedicated fans like that,” Brown commented while still looking at what he could have done better. “To hear those chants and hear their voices, screaming Maccabi and screaming our names, it was important for us. It’s always appreciated. I feel like we did a great job for our first year. I could’ve done more, personally for myself, but it was one of those days. You’ve just got to live with it and come back next year and get better.”
Now Maccabi’s got to make the switch over to the Israeli league as they host a critical Tel Aviv Derby that they need to win in order to secure home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Katash made no surprises with the choice of foreigners for the matchup at hand with Brown, Baldwin, Colson, Martin and Nebo in a must win game.
However, Katash does know that it won’t be easy for his players to get the ball rolling domestically after getting knocked out of the Euroleague playoffs, “The last game against Jerusalem and the upcoming one against Hapoel are tough as we will have to make the switch between the Euroleague and the Israeli league. We will do the best but it will be a challenge that we will need to deal with, but it certainly won’t be simple.”
“I think we just have to come with the same mentality as we play EuroLeague now,” Brown said. “Sometimes we kind of get in a mix between EuroLeague and Israeli league, but I feel like now we can focus more what we have to do in that league and try to win a championship there.”