Maccabi Tel Aviv gets back to business on Tuesday night when they begin a double week with a game against the reigning Euroleague champions Real Madrid which will be followed by the matchup versus ALBA Berlin on Thursday. The yellow-and-blue enter this week’s games with a 5-4 record good for 7th place after having fallen to Barcelona in dramatic fashion just last Thursday.
Due to the ongoing war with Hamas, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s home away from home is in Belgrade, Serbia where they will be welcoming in numerous teams coming up with a very busy continental schedule including a number of double weeks in the month of December. In fact, the Real Madrid game will be a makeup for their contest that had been postponed from last month due to the security situation in Israel.
Real Madrid has not lost a step since winning last season’s championship when they clipped Olympiacos 79-78 in one of the classic matchups over the past decades. Sitting atop the Euroleague standings with a perfect 9-0 record, Head Coach Chus Mateo’s squad may have made a number of changes to its roster, but those moves have not had any type negative effect whatsoever.
Many of the team’s aging stars returned for yet another shot at glory including Rudy Fernandez, Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull, but the core of the club is still intact which features stars like Walter Tavares, Gabriel Deck and Dzanan Musa.
However, a pair of players who have made a massive difference are Facundo Campazzo who returned to Los Blancos following a stint in the NBA as well as big man Vincent Poirier who missed the end of last season due to an appendectomy but has comeback with a vengeance helping lead the team.
Just ahead of one of the classic Euroleague clashes that the competition has to offer between Real and Maccabi, The Sports Rabbi spoke with Real center Vincent Poirier to get a first hand account as to how his team has succeeded in keeping pace with last season and even exceeding expectations.
“We have a very balanced team where everyone knows their role perfectly,” Poirier began. “Most players have been in the squad for years, and with hard work, things are going well, so we’re very pleased.”
Poirier, who just turned 30 last month, has been having a terrific season thus far with Real Madrid and has been putting up some of the best scoring efforts of his career to date averaging 9.3 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks a game to go along with a 13.3 efficiency rating. Thanks to those stats, individually he is near the top of the league leaders while he is also helping the team lead many categories including points per game with 88.2.
However, it’s not just his own renaissance he explained, it’s also the addition of star guard Facundo Campazzo who returned to Real where he featured between 2014-2020, after 2+ seasons in the NBA with the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.
“Playing with Facundo Campazzo is great; he seamlessly reintegrated into the team as if he never left,” the Frenchman said.
Poirier himself also tried his luck in the “world’s greatest league” between 2019-2021 when he spent time with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. In 33 career NBA games spread over two seasons, the center had a number of injuries that kept him off of the court, more than he would have liked. But nonetheless the experience was something that he will forever savor and is perhaps still in the back of his head of possibly returning one day to North America for one more whirl.
“My time in the NBA was a great experience, and while one can always wish for better, but I did my best during my stage over there. The future is always open, and you can never rule anything out.”
While he was with both the 76ers and Celtics he was able to play and practice with two of the games superstar players of today in Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum. The chance to share the floor with them was not something Poirier took for granted as he milked as much as he could form them.
“Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum are incredible players with a winning mentality. Learning from their mindset to dominate and compete at the highest level is the most valuable lesson that I took.”
That lesson no doubt helped Poirier in his return to the Euroleague as he is in the midst of his 4th season with Real Madrid. Prior to his venture overseas, the France international had started his career in his native country before spending two seasons with Baskonia just prior to his time in the NBA.
All of those experiences were key in his ability to become one of the team’s leaders and helped Real to a fabulous regular season last year which set them up to win the Euroleague title. Without Poirier’s contribution just before going out with an appendectomy, Mateo’s club would have never been able to reach the top of the mountain, “Winning the Euroleague last season was the priority; the appendectomy is almost a distant memory. The important thing is that we became European champions.”
There’s no question that Poirier and Real Madrid will give everything they have against Maccabi Tel Aviv and the battle in the paint will be one to keep a good eye on. Madrid leads the league in blocks with 3.9 per game while Maccabi is in second with 3.1 and the Spaniards are first in defensive rebounds with 27.3 as the Israelis are tops in offensive boards with 14 per game. Poirier knows that together with Walter Tavares, they have a tough challenge at hand against the yellow-and-blue duo of Josh Nebo and Jasiel Rivero.
“The key for me against Nebo and Rivero in the paint is to focus on team defense. We need to be attentive, control rebounds, and collectively play solid defense without fixating on individual matchups.”