It’s all in the D: Maccabi’s defense key in win over Valencia: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Round 12

Dec 9, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv returned to the win column – moving back to an even .500 on the seson – in their dominant 84-68 win over Valencia Basket at Yad Eliyahu on Thursday night. Lorenzo Brown (15 points and 6 assists), Darrun Hilliard (11 points and 4 assists) and Bonzie Colson (10 points and 4 rebounds) led the scoring for the home team, while Xabi Lopez-Arostegui (15 points and 5 rebounds), Victor Claver (13 points) and Bojan Dubljevic (11 points) led the way for the visitors.

Here are a few of my reflections from the round 12 clash.

Darrun Hilliard – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The Good: Defense and aggressiveness
Maccabi coach Oded Katash has consistently talked about how the offense starts from producing good defense, and that the players need to be aggressive out on the court. While admittedly playing against a team that looked off without its injured star, former Maccabi player Chris Jones, the Maccabi players still did what they needed to do to win.
“I think that it was a good game, we came with a game plan to pressure them,” Katash said after the game. “I think that’s what won us the game. I loved the energy, we were consistent defensively, other than a couple of minutes of lack of concentration. I think the key was that we cause 21 turnovers. We stuck with the game plan and I am very happy.”

“Defense,” Hilliard – playing his first back after being suspended by the team – responded when asked what clicked for the team. “I think that we’ve been playing better defense, playing together better – it’s a good win.”

Roman Sorkin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

After a slow start and finding themselves down 4-8 after the first 5 and a half minutes of the game, Maccabi managed to finish of the first quarter strongly to lead 15-10 after 10 minutes. Valencia was then restricted to only 17 points in the second frame, allowing Maccabi to take a 35-27 lead at halftime. While everyone knows that the visitors were not at full strength, Maccabi’s opponents have scored an average of 91.5 points a game over the previous 6 games, so the defensive pressure that was applied during the game – and especially in the first half – should not be understated.

While Maccabi won the rebound count as well (34-31), the numbers do not reflect how aggressive the players looked under the basket. Even when they didn’t get the rebounds, the players looked more energized and eager to get the ball than they had in recent weeks. Perhaps it was partly having the home crowd behind them; perhaps it was players taking it upon themselves to lift in the absence of Alex Poythress, who is set to miss around four months with his injured hand.

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

A special mention should go to Jake Cohen (8 points and 5 rebounds) – while he has seen limited action in the EuroLeague this season, he made the best of the opportunity, which is not only good for the team, but good for his own confidence.

“Part of being a pro is to stay ready,” Cohen said. “I like to think that I prepare for every game the same way, no matter who we play against, whether a player is injured or not injured – I want to keep the same routine and same habits and give 100%, no matter what.”

John Dibartolomeo – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The Bad: Lapses in concentration
Lapses in concentration can happen to the best of teams, but after a strong first 20 minutes on defense, Valencia quickly scored 20 points to draw to within 2 points at 49-47 after eight minutes of play in the third. The crowd responded with groans as during this eight-minute period, they saw seeing Lopez-Arostegui score 8 points and each of Klemen Prepelic (4 points and 5 assists) and Dubljevic score 4 points.

“At those moments, you don’t need to always change too many things,” Katash said about that period during which Valencia got back into the game. “Sometimes you miss shots and they made big shots, sometimes you need to just get back to return to the plan, protect the confidence of the players that we do the right things.”

Roman Sorkin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

While it looked bad, to the team’s credit, they didn’t completely lose their focus, finishing strongly at the end of the third quarter and throughout the final quarter for a convincing victory.

Wade Baldwin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The Ugly: Baldwin’s injury
Wade Baldwin IV (9 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists) missed the Munich game through injury, but looked good tonight. Not only was he not afraid to drive to the basket and make contact with the defender, but he also did not commit any turnovers (in his previous EuroLeague game, he turned the ball over 6 times). With just under 2 minutes to go in the third frame – coming back from a timeout called by Katash to try to disrupt Valencia’s third quarter run – Baldwin appeared to injure his hamstring as he brought the ball up the court.

“I hope it’s not too serious,” Katash said of Wade’s injury. “It doesn’t look very good. Hopefully I’m wrong, but definitely for the next week he won’t be with us.”

The team will hope that other players will be able to step in to fill his place while he is out injured, similarly to how we saw players step in to fill Poythress’s absence tonight.

Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Up Next: Bnei Herzliya at home and a double week in Italy
Maccabi will play against a struggling Bnei Herzliya team on Saturday night in Israeli league action at home. Without a win in the league since the surprise 79-74 away win over Hapoel Holon in late October, Bnei Herzliya sits last on the Winner League table with 2 wins and 6 losses. One would expect that Maccabi should win this game.

Maccabi will then fly to Italy for another Euroleague double week, in which they will play against last-placed Milan (3 wins and 9 losses) on Tuesday night and the Bologna (4 wins and 7 losses) on Friday night. While Maccabi is ahead of both of these teams in the standings, they are still yet to record a win away from home. While the coming week presents another opportunity to finally get that elusive road win, there are no easy games in the Euroleague.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Every game is critical,” said Katash. “You can always look at it as we haven’t won away, but you can also look at our record at home – that’s not something that’s a given. It’s possible that it’s something that’s on our shoulders, it may be experience, but it’s only going to get more difficult. [Injuries to players] is why we have a large squad and the players will need to do the work. But it definitely won’t be easy to play against two Italian teams away.”

“We all need the win on the road – it’s time,” Hilliard said. “Hopefully the black jerseys [worn for the first time by Maccabi tonight] bless us and give us the magic to take this attitude tonight going forward.”

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