Maccabi at risk of falling out of Play-In spot after back-to-back losses in Spain

Feb 2, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv (13-12, equal 8th in the standings) went 0-2 in Spain this week in Rounds 24 and 25 of EuroLeague action, with losses to Real Madrid (22-3, outright 1st in the standings) and Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (13-12, equal 8th in the standings).

It was a valiant effort against Real on Tuesday, going down 101-106 in a thrilling finish. Wade Baldwin IV (28 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal), Bonzie Colson (25 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals) and James Webb II (18 points and 3 rebounds) led the scoring for Maccabi, while Dzanan Musa (19 points, 1 rebound and 3 assists), Vincent Poirier (16 points, 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks) and Mario Hezonja (16 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal and 1 block) guided Real to victory.

Markus Howard – Photo credit: Baskonia

Maccabi was less-impressive on Thursday, losing in an uninspired performance to Baskonia 82-92. Baldwin (25 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal), Josh Nebo (12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals) and Jasiel Rivero (12 points, 4 rebounds and 1 steal) hit the scoreboard for Maccabi, while Markus Howard (26 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists), Chima Moneke (15points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal) and Vanja Marinkovic (14 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists) led the scoring for the victors.

Here are my thoughts from the two games:

The Good: Never say die against Real
Unlike the first game against Real this season, in which the Spaniards destroyed Maccabi 99-70, Maccabi never gave up in this game. Maccabi let Real get out to a 29-18 first quarter lead, which ultimately gave Los Blancos the distance that they needed to keep Maccabi at bay at the end of the game. However, the Yellow & Blue fought back from a game-high deficit of 78-91 at the beginning of the fourth quarter to come back to within 3 points when Baldwin hit a 3-pointer to make it a one-possession game with 24 seconds to go.

While it was disappointing that the home team won the game and Maccabi wasn’t able to capitalize on the absence of Real’s star Edy Tavares (who was out injured), Maccabi showed the grit that the fans expect from the team, even if they did come short ultimately against the best team in the EuroLeague.

Oded Katash – Photo credit: Dragan Stjepanovic

“In the end, we lost only the first quarter, but that’s what decided the game,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said after the game. “But we showed character. We came back to the game 3-4 times and we cut their lead. That’s it. We can take a lot of good things from that game looking forward. We are in the middle of a tough schedule, we’re playing a lot of minutes. It’s another game, another experience for us, we need to understand what it takes to play at that level.”

Coming back into the game after the slow start required an adjustment. Katash was proud of his team’s ability to adapt.

“As a team, we’re not playing a possession game – we play to the flow, we try to take whatever the defense gives us,” Katash said. “[Baldwin, Colson and Webb], those three names, the creators for our team. I think after 10 minutes, we found a way to attack the right way. We had some good things, we found some way to score other points against Real. We never plan about that situation, but we discovered it.”

Markus Howard – Photo credit: Baskonia

The Bad: Never finding the footing against Baskonia
Although Maccabi got out to a 26-20 lead after 10 minutes on the back of Baldwin and Webb scoring the last 6 points of the quarter, it was downhill from there, with Baskonia winning the next two quarters 34-21 and 19-16 to take a 10 point lead into the last quarter – a lead that they didn’t relinquish. The team never looked focused and it was disappointing after the positives that could have been taken into the gam from the Real loss.

“We came back into the game, but it was too late,” Katash said after the disappointing loss. “We didn’t deserve to win this game. We were not aggressive enough, a lot of mistakes, we didn’t execute our gameplan, we didn’t use fouls correctly. Playing that way, you can’t win games and we have to learn from that.”

“It was a tough game for us tonight,” Nebo said. “We didn’t come out with the right energy and focus needed to win on the road. We allowed them to play to their strengths and didn’t take away what they are good at. We have to move forward and focus on being better for the next game.”

Photo credit: Baskonia

Ugly: Defense and lack of focus
It’s become a bit of a theme for the season, but Maccabi tends to lose their focus during games and the results show on defense. While Maccabi averaged 91.5 points for the week – higher than their season average of 86.2 points – they let in an average of 99 points. That can be put down to a lack of focus, particularly on the defensive end.

“To win against Real, it’s never going to be easy,” Katash said after the loss to Real. “They’re a team with a lot of skills, a lot of weapons and I think defensively we could be better – even though it’s not easy, as I said. They really know how to punish you with every small mistake. But to be able to win here you need to play a complete game, which on the defensive side we were not 100% focused.

“We need to be a little more focused,” Katash continued. “We can’t let them score over 100 points if we want to win the game, especially here. But it’s tough – it’s not easy against Real Madrid. But to win here, you have to play a complete game and we were not there on the defensive side.”

Photo credit: Real Madrid

It’s especially difficult for Maccabi, a team which likes to create offense from the defense, as Katash has reiterated throughout his current tenure.

“As I said, it wasn’t a plan that 3 or 4 players would cover most of the points,” Katash said of the Real game. “Even without Tavares, their defensive system built on the same concept. We tried to punish them, we adapted a little bit every game and punish in the right way. Some games they’re more dominant, sometimes less. But like is said, we need try to take the defense with us and disrupt their flow.”

Katash was even more gloomy about his defense on Thursday night.

“It’s really a bad feeling to lose like that – not because of the result, but because of the way we played. We didn’t come out focused. We were not aggressive, we couldn’t use our fouls and it happened in the first half.

Lorenzo Brown – Photo credit: Baskonia

“We came with a gameplan,” Katash continued. “I cannot even say that for 5 minutes we gave it a chance – they wanted the game more than us. We know from the experience in the second game in a double week, a lot of things can happen. It was bad from the beginning – we were not there. I want to say it’s experience, but they’re not as experienced as our team. It’s our second year together. If we want to do something this year, we have to make sure … we can’t show up like that. We need to figure it out, we will learn from it.”

Up Next: Double Winner League plus Efes away
Maccabi now comes into a crucial week, in which they’ll play back-to-back Winner League games – against Hapoel Holon (5-3, 5th in the standings) in Holon on Saturday night (19:15 IST / 12:15 EST) and Hapoel Eilat (2-10, 12th in the standings) at home on Monday night (18:00 IST / 11:00 EST). They’ll then have a three-day break before playing an away game against Anadolu Efes in Riga, Latvia on Thursday night (19:30 IST / 12:30 EST). The busy week is due to Maccabi delaying games from earlier in the season due to the war, with the game against Eilat a Round 8 game that was originally scheduled for November.

While it may be passable to be in a play-in position in the EuroLeague, Maccabi is currently sitting in 8th place in the Israeli league – a play-in position, with 4 wins and 3 losses (the top six teams at the end of the second round of games between the teams going straight through to the playoffs (with only the positioning changing for those teams prior to the playoffs). They admittedly have some games in hand, but the next few weeks are going to be very busy weeks and weeks during which they cannot afford to drop games, especially with cross-town rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv currently sitting in first place with 8 wins and 1 loss.

Photo credit: Real Madrid

“I think we were lucky, especially under the crazy circumstances in our country,” Katash said after the Real game of the relatively good position the team is in. “We were lucky to get some continuation from last year – that’s the most important thing. We kept the core of the team, that’s what kept us competitive. Also, character -wise. We’ve been through a lot of difficulties. We’re not playing home, we’re missing home, we’re missing our crowd, we’re missing normal life. So that’s big respect for the players to handle the situation.

“We find a way to do it, even though we’re not playing in our home court,” Katash continued. “We can’t look more than 3 to 4 days ahead. The schedule is crazy, we postponed some games in the Israeli game earlier this season, so we’re in the middle of a schedule of 16 games in 40 days or something crazy like that. The last experience in that situation was during the Corona period. But I think that the key is our continuation from last year and our character.”

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