Just how important is Jake Cohen to Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague success?

Mar 12, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

“It was a great win and a great week for us, beating two great teams Fenerbahce and Efes. We showed a lot of character this week. Maybe it was one of the best complete games of the season.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv and head coach Oded Katash’s critics were silenced this past week after the yellow-and-blue chalked up not one but two huge victories over top level Turkish opponents as the club’s Euroleague postseason hopes are alive and kicking.

First Oded Katash’s crew downed one of the competition’s top teams in Fenerbahce in a terrific slugfest at Yad Eliyahu in front of the team’s home fans and then on Friday, Maccabi came out flying in Istanbul where they dominated Anadolu EFES, the two time defending champions.

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Elad Goldstein, Maccabi Tel Aviv

With the pair of victories, Maccabi moved their record to 15-13 and are now in 8th place, the with last playoff spot, but they are tied with Baskonia and Partizan Belgrade who occupy places 6 and 7 while Zalgiris also sporting an identical record are in 9th with just six games remaining in the regular season.

In order for the yellow-and-blue to take one of the postseason spots in order to have a chance to reach continental glory once again, they will need a minimum of 3 wins and most probably even four to clinch a place in the playoffs.

Maccabi will play four of the games at home with Baskonia coming up this week, an Italian double week in a fortnight with games against Bologna and Milano and then a clash against Real Madrid on the final gameday. On the road, Katash’s crew will head to France for a date with Villeurbanne and also visit Zalgiris in Lithuania, but it’s not inconceivable that the yellow-and-blue could win their next four games in a row and punch their ticket to the promised land.

However, let’s not put the cart in front of the horse and that is definitely one thing that the ever reliable naturalized Israeli Jake Cohen would agree on.

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Maccabi Tel Aviv has had a fairly consistent season as they have hovered around the .500 mark all campaign long after getting off to a 4-1 start. On the positive side of the ledger, they have not once this season dropped below sea-level which is key.

While many would say, it’s not such a big deal if they drop below .500 and that the team could easily bounce back, it’s never in anyone’s interests to have to start playing an internal psychological battle that would take place when having to climb up that hill.

In essence, it’s the same matter of fact during the course of a game where a team would not want to find themselves in a deficit. If they can always stay ahead and never go down, the chances of winning are just that much more greater. The last thing any team likes to do is to find themselves in a hole and having to dig their way out of it.

No thanks.

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

And as much as Jake Cohen dismissed the notion, any and every competitor knows the value of never being behind the 8-ball.

“I can’t speak for everyone but it was not in my mindset at all,” the veteran Israeli/American forward said. “Those things don’t really matter I’m trying to win the game and focus on the details of the game. I can’t get distracted by those things.”

Interestingly enough, when Maccabi has Cohen in the starting lineup they are 6-3 which is yet another fact that the Davidson product didn’t want to delve into, while the club is 9-5 when he plays 5+ minutes in a game and yet 8-2 when he plays 9+ minutes.

The stats speak for themselves as he was back as a starter against EFES after not having been having been in that spot in close to two months when Maccabi defeated ALBA Berlin on January 19th.

“I don’t think of that,” Cohen said after his magnificent performance off the bench against Fenerbahce. “It’s out of my control I try to stay ready and do my job. Even when I’m not scoring I’m still doing good things. I think I did a good job at that with the offensive rhythm and ultimately it’s important to get the win.”

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

How good was Cohen for Katash against EFES? Very, very, good.

Cohen’s intelligent play both with and more importantly without the ball was one of the main reasons why Maccabi got off to a terrific start with Wade Baldwin, scoring and scoring some more.

How many points did Baldwin score with Cohen by his side?

How about 16 of his 23 points, with 7 points in each of the first two quarters and then a pair in the final frame before Cohen fouled out.

John Dibartolomeo and Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Maccabi grabbed the early lead with Cohen on the court and never let go the rest of the way.

Oh, and you can add a pair of triples as well.

That’s not a bad night of work and it just continues to prove the point as to his value to the club at home or on the road.

“It is our fourth road win of the year,” Baldwin said. “It doesn’t come around too often, but we are happy to get this win. There are only six games left at this point, so to win against both of these Turkish teams this week has been unbelievable. It is very tough to beat Fenerbahce and the defending champions, so we are extremely happy and now have a home game against Baskonia next week. Just coming out on fire was the secret [to our success].”

Jake Cohen – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Cohen has played in 16 games and Maccabi is 9-7 overall when he gets into a game but that also means he didn’t touch the court or was not dressed for 12 other Euroleague games or 43% of them.

However, at this point in time, those dozen or so games are water under the bridge and Maccabi has to just keep looking forward. Six games to go as it’s now or never.

“Our next game is the most important, to try to improve to 16-13 and get a little bit of separation from that eighth spot,” Baldwin explained. “We have been there all year, it has been on our minds all year. We will try to get a little bit of separation and see where this thing can take us.”

But ultimately, Katash understands what his team needs to do in order to advance to the playoffs which is what he saw Maccabi do at EFES.

Wade Baldwin – Photo Credit: Elad Goldstein, Maccabi Tel Aviv

“Defensively, we played consistently right from the beginning. It is something that we don’t usually do, so I am very happy for that. On the other side, offensively, we had a great shooting night. We shared the ball, attacked the right players and stuck to our game plan. I am very happy.”

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