Maccabi Tel Aviv came close to beating CSKA in Israel, falling to the Russians 80-76, but unfortunately close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Andrew Goudelock led the way for the Yellow & Blue with 19 points while Victor Rudd scored 16 points and pulled down 8 rebounds as DJ Seely dropped 14 points in the loss.
Maccabi played arguably the best quarter of the season taking a 31-16 advantage thanks to sharp shooting going 5/6 from 3-point land, dishing out 10 assists and grabbing 14 opening frame rebounds as the Yellow & Blue went run and gun with a high tempo offense. Goudelock and Colton Iverson led the way with 9 points a piece.
However, CSKA took control of the second quarter cutting into the Maccabi lead and going into halftime only 4 down, 46-42. Mikhail Kulagin with 9 points combined with 8 points from Vitaly Fridzon and 7 from Aaron Jackson helped the Russian team get within striking distance after 20 minutes as Maccabi committed 10 first half turnovers.
With the former Red Army side breathing down the Yellow & Blue necks and slowing down the game moving into more half court sets, Semen Antonov (9pts), Cory Higgins (16pts) and Kyle Hines (9pts) inflicted plenty of damage to come away with the 4 point victory.
1) Maccabi committed 23 (!) turnovers against CSKA, an almost unheard of amount and what is almost was shocking as last week’s no foul shot stat, a first for a Euroleague team. The Yellow & Blue played Santa early hand out gift after gift to the Russians and the will have to be something that the new coach Ainars Bagatskis will have to fix along with many other things. Bottom line is that the Maccabi seems to be heading into uncharted waters each and every week, the Latvian coach will have to get the ship level before it eventually sinks as it sways from side to side.
2) On the bright side, Maccabi made 100% of their free throws going 21/21 from the charity stripe against CSKA and that may have been one of the reasons why the Yellow & Blue stayed in the game. Hopefully that will be a building block moving ahead especially in Euroleague play. But just as we saw with the 23 turnovers, Bagatskis will have to level out the team and get them to play more consistently on both ends of the floor and in all aspects of the game.
3) A tale of two players who each finished with 0 points against CSKA, Sonny Weems and Gal Mekel. The former played 19 minutes, went 0/3 from the field, pulled down 4 rebounds and turned over the ball 6 times, while the latter didn’t see one second on the court. I had asked Lubin in the pregame press conference if Mekel and Landesberg would see some quality time against CSKA and he answered that he his coaching a team and everyone had an opportunity to play. At least Landesberg had 6 nondescript minutes but never could really into the game. Mekel of course never had a chance to show his ability as it seems that the coaching staff old and new have totally written off the former NBA guard. Following the game, I asked yet again if Mekel would have a chance to play on Friday in Turkey especially since Lubin went with a short rotation which played a ton of minutes and again I received a very non committal answer that everyone has a chance to play. I’d be shocked if that were to be the case. The one question I have is why won’t anyone from Rami Hadar to Lubin give Mekel a chance to play once we’ve already seen what this crew can do? I just don’t understand why they won’t give him a shot, nothing else has seemed to work and a true point guard is what the Yellow & Blue have been lacking.
Ainars Bagatskis who had been serving as David Blatt’s assistant coach this season will be taking over the reins of the Yellow & Blue as they sit with a record of 5-8 (which could be 5-9 after a date with with Bagatskis’ former team Darüşşafaka of Istanbul). The Latvian boss comes with a number of years of Euroleague and International experience as both a player and coach. The 6”6 small forward who featured in 4 Eurobasket Tournaments for Latvia also played for Zalgiris and was on the floor for Derek Sharp’s miracle shot in the Final Four that was held in Tel Aviv. After retirement, Bagatskis began his coaching career and currently serves as Lativa’s assistant coach while having most recently been a head coach with Nizhny Novgorod.
The Latvian comes in just as Zan Tabak did last season, to try and save a campaign. There’s no question that this year’s version of Maccabi is much more talented than last year’s but it’s still never easy to come into a difficult situation and to a team that’s already gone through a number of coaches. It will be interesting to see how the Latvian will do to impress and can he do enough to hold onto the job going into next year?
They Said It:
Lior Lubin, Head Coach Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
“I think we gave a helluva fight today. We started the game very well and CSKA started catching up. That’s what it is supposed to do; It is one of the best teams, or probably the best team in the EuroLeague. Defensively we were there. I think the first quarter gave us a boost offensively and we had to try and find a solution in the second half. We had a chance to win the game. I think the effort was there, the energy was there and that is very important for us in this time. So we take those things and will try to get better from that point. The players’ approach was much better for this game than for the last few games.”
Dimitris Itoudis, Head Coach CSKA Moscow
“I would like to congratulate my team. That was an amazing fight. That was an amazing statement for us that despite the obstacles, despite the bad start, we do find ways to win. We did believe in the system defensively, we managed to force 23 turnovers and we played exactly what was necessary to win the game. The CSKA team is the MVP of this game. Of course we played against a very talented team and we had to face these 25 points that I spoke about in transition. We limited it – actually, I think that we got one transition, 2 free throws, fouls, something like that, 2 or 4 points– And that’s huge. And we managed to come all the way in the [index rating], which shows how much we fought and how much we trusted each other, the player inside. So big congratulations for the contributions of the players. You know, every game is a fight in the EuroLeague, that’s what is EuroLeague about. We haven’t won anything in general, but we have won the attitude and that’s why we are happy today. ”
Devin Smith, small forward Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv
“This was a step in the right direction for us. We had a different energy level. The fans noticed that and pushed us even further. We didn’t get the win, but we feel like we have a lot to take from this game. I believe that if we keep going like this, and improve our weak spots, we can still turn around this season.”