It’s all about the D – Maccabi’s defense leads Yellow & Blue to 113-83 win over Baskonia

Maccabi Tel Aviv blew away Baskonia 113-83 in Vitoria to win their sixth Euroleague game in a row. The Yellow & Blue led by guards Scottie Wilbekin, John DiBartolomeo, Nate Wolters and Elijah Bryant scored early and often getting off to a hot start and carried that into the the second quarter and then into the second half. The victory was Maccabi’s first in Spain after 16 defeats and they will now prepare for a double week with games in Milano and Barcelona which will give Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s team a chance to move to the top of the standings.

Wilbekin led Maccabi with 20 points, Bryant dropped 19 points while John DiBartolomeo and Nate Wolters each scored 14 points in the victory. Toko Shengelia scored 31 points and Patricio Garino added 24 points to lead Baskonia.

Tarik Black started strong for Maccabi with 5 points while Scottie Wilbekin drilled home a triple from the elbow to give the Yellow & Blue a 13-7 lead but Black and Nate Wolters each picked up a pair of fouls which saw them head to the bench midway through the first quarter. John DiBartolomeo got hot off the bench with a pair of 3-pointers and a terrific assist to Yovel Zoosman cancelling out Toko Shengelia’s 8 points as Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad took a 28-21 lead after ten minutes.

Wilbekin kept scoring from beyond the arc to increase Maccabi’s lead to 39-24 with 5:22 left in the half. Othello Hunter scored a pair of buckets including a thunderous dunk, Black hit a basket and-1 while Elijah Bryant scored a triple to help Maccabi finish the second quarter ahead 55-32.

Wolters started off the third quarter on fire with a layup and a triple, Wilbekin nailed a 3-pointer and Wolters added another big shot from deep as Maccabi increased their lead to 70-41 midway through the frame. Dibartolomeo got into the act from long distance as well as Patricio Garino tried in vain to keep Baskonia in the game, but Bryant scored 9 straight Maccabi points to give the visitors a 86-58 lead.

Tyler Dorsey got into the act with back to back baskets and Jake Cohen got his first points of the night as Maccabi kept scoring in bundles to take 101-69 advantage with five minutes left in regulation time. Dorsey kept hitting his shots while Bryant and Hunter did as well as the Yellow & Blue wrapped up their 6th Euroleague win in a row 113-83 as they head to Milano and Barcelona to battle for the top spot in the standings.

1) Yes, 3-Pointers that was the name of the game. Maccabi hit lots and lots and lots of them. How about 17 for size? The Yellow & Blue had a brilliant shooting night, one for the Maccabi record books in fact as they went 17/29 good for 58% and in effect put away the game pretty much after the first quarter. Scottie Wilbekin went 6/8, John Dibartolomeo drilled home 3/4 as Maccabi ran away with the win thanks to their sharp shooting from outside while the team shot 65% from two. Can Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s squad keep up these percentages going forward when they visit Milano and Barcelona next week? That certainly remains to be seen but Maccabi has shot close to 60% from two and 36% from three all season long, so the short range shots should continue to fall, the question will be can they keep up their percentages from 3. “It felt like everything was working for us both on offense and defense as we stuck to the game plan,” explained Wilbekin. “Everybody played good and had good looks and knocked them down. The ball was going in, sometimes it’s just like that.”

2) Maccabi knew exactly how to start the game with aggressiveness, defense, driving hard to the basket and hitting their shots from behind the arc. Sfairpoulos made sure his players didn’t let up even when they were comfortably in the lead ensuring that they didn’t take their foot off of the gas. 37 rebounds to 25, 24 assists to 16, 12 steals to 9 and 28 fouls to 15 which showed who the boss was in Vitoria. And how about this stat, 72 shots to 56 for Baskonia. Remember this was on the road. Amazing. “Everyone played with confidence and shot the ball well,” Wolters said following the game. “It was a good win for us. Baskonia was undefeated at home up until this game and we knew we had to play well on both offense and defense.”

Dov Halickman Photography

3) Coach Ioannis Sfairpoulos said the reason the team played such good basketball was due to a number of reasons, some basketball related and others not. “We won the game mainly for two reasons. We didn’t play two games in the Israeli league that we were supposed to play as the league game against Hapoel Beer Sheva as cancelled due to the situation and we were able to prepare for this game. Last years before both games against Baskonia we had two Israeli league games before the Euroleague game and we have to take that into consideration. The second reason is that we came to the game via a charter flight. The players were fresh to play with energy and intensity that you saw in the game. I want to thank the owners for arranging that.” As for the basketball reasons, on the court Maccabi’s offense was dictated by their defense, “We played good defense especially in the second half where we held Baskonia to just 11 points. We had an excellent day offensively because of our defense. Sometimes in basketball when you have the momentum everything you shoot you score. We have good shooters but the rhythm starts with good defense.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv

John DiBartolomeo not only scored 14 points but added 6 assists and 3 steals for yet another terrific Euroleague game. The captain has become a legitimate guard that can be relied upon to take the bull by the horns when his team needs it most. How did it happen? Hard work on the part of the player and the coach having faith in him. He wasn’t handed anything on a silver platter and he earned that faith and he rewarded everyone with yet another fantastic performance. It’s incredible to think where Dibartolomeo was just 5 years ago, in Spain trying to figure out where he could get a job. He’s a true rags to riches story for the Israeli basketball world as Maccabi fans are privileged to have a played like John D on their team. The captain had the last word before the team boarded the bus to head back to the airport and then to Israel, “We just moved the ball well on offense but the story for us has always been defense. When we play defense it relieves the pressure on offense.”

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