Wednesday night, Maccabi Tel Aviv won the opening game of its Euroleague quarterfinal series against AS Monaco in emphatic fashion, a 79-67 road victory in the battle between the fourth- and fifth-placed teams. It was a consistent four quarter effort, with Maccabi winning each quarter on the night.
Wade Baldwin IV (20 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal), Lorenzo Brown (15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals), Josh Nebo (12 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists) and Bonzie Colson (11 points and 3 rebounds) led the scoring for the victors, while Alpha Diallo (15 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 1 steal), Mike James (15 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists), Elie Okobo (12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals) and Donatas Motiejunas (12 points, 6 rebounds and 1 assist) were in double figures for the home team.
Here are a few of my reflections from game 1.
The Good: Stealing home-court advantage
While it wasn’t a perfect game from the yellow & blue, coach Oded Katash clearly came in with a well-prepared game plan which the team was able to execute. That, together with the hundreds of fans who travelled from Tel Aviv to give it a home game type of atmosphere, helped Maccabi get a crucial victory away from home in the first of the five-game series.
The win was made even more special given that while they were on the court, back home in Israel the country was celebrating Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s 75th Independence Day.
The loss for Monaco means that they will now have to win at least one game in Tel Aviv – where Maccabi had a league-best 15-2 record during the regular season – to win the series.
“The crowd was amazing,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash reflected after the game. “Everyone speaks about the atmosphere at Yad Eliyahu, but look at what was here. The players really were pushed by the fans and the flags in the stands – it really made Yom Haatzmaut special.”
Maccabi’s stars agreed with their coach’s sentiments:
Baldwin: “As soon as we ran out there, it felt like a home game. That’s what we need. We’ve struggled on the road all year, we have great support from the fans.”
Colson: “The fans were great. There’s nothing like seeing that yellow in the stands cheering us on. Like I said, we have the best fans in the Euroleague and we feed off the energy.”
Darrun Hilliard (10 points, 1 rebound and 1 assist): “For the whole game, it was like we were in Menorah. I looked up in the fourth quarter and it felt like we were back in Tel Aviv.”
Jarrel Martin (4 rebounds and 1 assist): “The fans were tremendous tonight. We heard them the entire night with all the Maccabi fans here, it felt like we had the homecourt advantage for sure.”
Jake Cohen (3 rebounds and 2 assists): “It was amazing. The excitement level, the energy level, all those Israelis in there, that was amazing. I think it got us to such a great start, to feel their support, feel their love. My adrenalin level we were at tonight was crazy. I’m sure all the guys were feeling the same way. It was a lot of fun to play in that game with that kind of support. You know, it felt like Tel Aviv 2.0 out there.”
The team was able to implement Katash’s gameplan and the defensive effort put a lot of pressure on the home team, evidenced by their low score (Monaco averaged 83.2 during the regular season and only scored 67 points last night) and low 3-point shooting percentage (Monaco averaged 31.7% during the regular season and only shot at 15.4% last night).
“We expected a very aggressive series and while people thought this was going to be a good series, I knew that this was going to be a tough series for us,” Katash said. “Our defensive plan worked and we were able to do what we needed in a small and tough arena.”
“I think we did a good job of making them look comfortable,” said Cohen. “They’re really good offensive players and you can’t just let them play with space and time, so that was our gameplan, to try to take them out of the comfort zone and I think we did that.”
The Bad: Foul differential
Last night, Maccabi committed 28 fouls against Monaco’s 19 fouls, with captain John DiBartolomeo (3 points, 1 assist and 1 steal) exiting the game towards the end of the fourth quarter with five fouls and Alex Poythress (6 points, 1 rebound and 2 steals) collecting four fouls within the first three quarters. Not only that, but Maccabi had already given up five team fouls within 3 and a half minutes of play in the second quarter and within just over 5 minutes of play in the third quarter.
Ultimately, it didn’t hurt Maccabi – and a team will naturally collect lots of personal fouls when playing an aggressive brand of basketball. This is something that the players are aware of and, while it has the potential to allow the opposition to get back into the game – which could be of concern for the rest of the series – Maccabi will need to maintain its same aggressiveness while being cautious of getting into foul trouble.
“I think we used our fouls,” Baldwin said. “We fouled a little too much, some iffy calls, but we used our fouls wisely. We brought the fight to them and we need to do it again.”
“Maybe we were a little too eager with some of our fouls,” Cohen said, “but at the end of the day, we held them to 60-something points, so that’s mission accomplished.”
“There were a lot of fouls, but we stood up, played our defense and were aggressive,” Poythress said. “We held them to 60-something points, that’s great defensively. We won every quarter too. So we’ll come out with the same aggression on Thursday, we should be ok. We cannot stop being aggressive.”
The Ugly: Shaky start
As you’d expect in a playoff game, both teams looked a little nervous to start the game. For Maccabi, Baldwin and Brown had 2 turnovers each within the first 5 minutes. However, the team did settle – adding only another 10 turnovers in the last 35 minutes of the game – with a lot of credit given to Colson, who scored 7 points in the first quarter alone, for steadying the ship.
Cohen gave plenty of that credit to Colson: “The first two or three possessions weren’t great for us, but we settled back in. Bonzie was huge to calm us down a little bit. Just seeing those first couple of shots go in takes a lot of pressure off the guys, knowing that we can make shots here, we’re in this game, we’re here to play, so he deserved a lot of credit for getting that start. You know, once we get settled in, then the rest of our guys can do what they do best.”
“Just trying to stay within myself, be ready to catch and shoot, make plays as best as I can on both sides of the floor,” Colson, playing in his first Euroleague playoff series in his rookie Euroleague season, answered when asked about his first-quarter efforts. “The guys give me confidence that I can do that, so just staying consistent as best as I can.”
It was a shaky performance on a personal level for another one of Maccabi’s Euroleague rookies, Martin, who had 2 turnovers and a game-low performance index rating of -6.
“I was a little excited, just couldn’t get the rock in the river tonight,” Martin said of his performance after the game. “I got some great looks, just couldn’t get it in the water. I’ll bounce back from this game, my teammates, they had to pick me up, we were able to get the job down. That’s all that matters.”
Now that the first game of the series is under their belt, the whole team will be more calm and confident heading into game 2 tomorrow night.
Up Next: Game 2 in Monaco
Same time, same place: Monaco hosts Maccabi for game 2 of the series tomorrow night (21:15 IDT / 14:15 EDT). Monaco will try to level the series so that they can carry some momentum and hope into Tel Aviv next week, while Maccabi will be looking to demoralize their opponents by winning a second consecutive game on their home court.
“We have to forget this one and the next will be different,” Monaco coach Saša Obradović said of the task ahead. “We have to be smarter and have a plan and not just play with a heart. It will be different in the second game.”
Of course, 48 hours can be a long time in basketball. Maccabi is aware that the series is not over and that they cannot be complacent.
When interviewed after last night’s game, Hilliard was already aware of where the focus needed to be placed: “That’s human initiative to kind of feel happy and just want to enjoy this win, but we’re already talking about Thursday and we know what type of game it’ll be – so we’ve got to come out and hopefully get another win.”
“We both want to make adjustments,” Colson said of the preparation for tomorrow night. “Nothing’s going to be easy. But we’ve just got to watch film, continue to improve, and just stay hungry, I think that’s for us, just continue the momentum that we have and understand that nothing’s going to be easy.”