After two road games to start its EuroLeague quarterfinal series, Maccabi Tel Aviv returns home for game 3 this evening, Tuesday night and game 4 on Thursday (both games at 21:05 IDT / 14:05 EDT) against AS Monaco. Maccabi stunned Monaco in the opening game last Tuesday in a 79-67 victory to steal homecourt, however Monaco recovered and turned the momentum by leveling with an 86-74 game 2 victory.
During the regular season, Maccabi held the best home record with 15 wins and 2 losses and they will be looking forward to having the crowd as the proverbial 6th man in the arena this week, as the stands will be drenched in yellow in front of the sold out crowd at Yad Eliyahu.
“We are excited for tomorrow, to come back to play in front of our fans and I’m sure it will be a crazy atmosphere,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said in the leadup to game 3. “We will need it – we need our fans. It will be an intense game and very physical game. Hopefully we’ll come out tomorrow and play to win, play with confidence, to execute our game and we are excited. It’s going to be a very tough matchup for both teams and it’ll be an interesting game.”
“It’s beautiful, the fans here are tremendous,” Maccabi power forward Jarell Martin responded when asked about the atmosphere he can expect at Yad Eliyahu this week. “I know for sure that the gym is going to be electrical tomorrow and we can’t wait to come out and get going in front of home.”
Martin and starting power forward, Jake Cohen, have each struggled to start the series: in just under 30 minutes over both games, Martin has recorded 3 points (1/14 from the field), 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 turnovers, for an aggregate performance index rating (PIR) of minus 12; in a little under 29 minutes, Cohen has gone 0/5 from the field, with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 turnover for an aggregate PIR of 0. This is well below the average output of both players from the regular season and they will be looking to ride the wave of energy that they can expect from the home fans.
“Making a few shots would be nice,” Cohen answered when asked about their performances on the road last week. “Both of us have had good looks, but just haven’t fallen, that’s going to happen sometimes. I think all our teammates have confidence in us which is why they keep passing us the ball and telling us to shoot. You know, they’ll drop eventually, just got to keep playing with confidence and that’s a big first step, but on the other side of things, on the other hand, I do think we’re doing other good things too.
“There’s a lot more to this game than just scoring the ball and although for me personally I haven’t been making shot in this series, I think that I’ve been doing other things that help the team as well. I need to continue doing those things and of course making a good shot would make me happy as well.”
Martin is also preparing to come into the game with confidence in his abilities: “I’ve just got to get that rock to go into the river, just confidence and keep being aggressive, I know for sure they’ll fall soon.”
Their opponents in the series have good reason to be confident. Not only did they turn the series around with their game 2 victory, but they also know that they are able to score points in front of a hostile Yad Eliyahu crowd. While they lost their previous game in Tel Aviv – a 78-70 round 3 loss back in October, after fading away in a disappointing last quarter for them which Maccabi won 26-11 – Monaco held a 59-52 lead heading into the last quarter and even had a 19 point lead a few minutes before halftime.
In that round 3 game, Jordan Loyd had a game high 30 PIR and an equal game high 21 points while shooting 50% from the field. He was also Monaco’s best player in their game 2 victory, with a PIR of 36 and 33 points (5/5 from 2 and 5/9 from 3).
“It’s funny, because I love playing in Israel,” Loyd, who played for Hapoel Eilat in the 2017/18 season, said in anticipation of game 3. “I love going to Maccabi’s gym and playing ever since I was in Eilat. I used to love going there and playing there. I’m sure they won’t be too fond of us now when we get there, but for me it’s exciting. I love it, I love being on the road, road warrior is kind of my thing, so you just have to embrace it. Everything comes with ups and downs and I just kind of want to ride the wave.”
One of the contentious points from last week – especially game two – was the foul count. So far in the series, Maccabi has committed 57 fouls while only drawing 38 fouls, which has resulted in them going to the line 36 times (for 26 points) across two games compared to Monaco’s 52 times (for 38 points). Together with the technical fouls – of which Maccabi was penalized with six in game 2 – left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Maccabi fans upon leaving Monaco. However, that’s not to take anything away from Monaco, who clearly deserved to win last Thursday night.
“After the first game, it was clear that they would be more aggressive,” Katash said. “The referees let them play. Beyond that, they have individual players who are very good defensive players, physical and aggressive and we need to be ready for it. Playoffs are playoffs, it’s not always beautiful and flowing, but we always need to find the way. We made a few adjustments. There was also fatigue after 48 hours, after rest I believe that tomorrow it’ll look better. Of course, we need balls to go in and players to be better, there are things that you can’t control, but we’re focusing on the way that we’re playing and that’s what we want to do tomorrow against good defense.”
While Maccabi will be buoyant after winning a game on the road and knowing that the crowd will be on their side for the next two games, they can also take some positives out of game 2. Specifically, their bigs have outrebounded Monaco in both games in this series and they will look to continue that trend tonight through their aggressive style of play.
“We have to come back and be a little more aggressive,” Martin said. “We’ve got to be the team to throw the first punch and maintain it throughout the whole course of the game, just that aggressiveness.
“We just need to be making the extra plays, doing the little things, there’ll be big rewards in the end, getting more offensive rebounds and being more physical on the defensive end.”
The home fans will hope that the team can replicate their overall performance from game 1, while some of their stars can recapture their form from the latter-end of the regular season, to book a ticket to the final four by the time the final buzzer sounds on Thursday night.
“I think we need to embrace this challenge that we have ahead of us,” Cohen summed up the outlook for the games ahead. “Monaco’s a very good team. The EuroLeague playoffs are something special. We need to appreciate the opportunity that we have. Not very often in your career do you have a chance to play in these kinds of moments, so it’s important to approach them with a sense of gratitude and acknowledgement that these things are great opportunities that you can remember for the rest of your life. I think that will give you a certain level of humility and you’ll be more present in the moment and enjoy and when you’re doing those things, I think you’ll play better, because you’re more mindful of yourself and what you’ve done to get there, the hard work that you’ve put in, the cohesiveness that you have as a team. So it’s important to remember those kinds of things. That allows us to play our best, if we have mindfulness and of course playing at home, it always helps having the energy of the fans.”