Maccabi tops Zalgiris 88-81 as Yellow & Blue show defense & fight ahead of Barcelona and Pau Gasol

Maccabi Tel Aviv downed Zalgiris 88-81 in Lithuania thanks to a late 16-2 run to get back onto the winning track in Euroleague action. The Yellow & Blue opens the game poorly and were down 26-18 after ten minutes, but Dragan Bender and Chris Jones helped cut the Zalgiris lead to just 2-points, 40-38 at half-time.

Elijah Bryant scored in bundles in the third quarter to put Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad ahead 64-63 after thirty minutes. However, Martin Schiller’s squad took a 79-72 lead with under four minutes to go in the final frame, but Bender and Ante Zizic helped Maccabi to a 16-2 run to close out a 88-81 Maccabi victory.

Maccabi celebrates – Photo Credit:

Dragan Bender led the Yellow & Blue scorers with 16 points, Chris Jones added 13 points, 6 assists and 4 steals, Scottie Wilbekin and Elijah Bryant each checked in with 12 points and Ante Zizic chipped in with 10 points in the win. Nigel Hayes was the Zalgiris high scorer with 24 points and Marius Grigonis added 14 points in the loss.

Joffrey Lauvergne – Photo Credit:


It looked like it was going to be a very long night the way Maccabi started out giving up points a plenty while unable to find the bottom of the basket as Sandy Cohen who was inserted into the starting lineup struggled mightily to get things going as Nigel Hayes tore apart the visitors. Did Maccabi care to win this game? Would they fold up like a cheap suit and just mail the defeat in? Those were the thoughts that swirled around many of Maccabi’s faithful. But then something happened. Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos called a timeout with the score 23-10 and to minutes left in the first quarter. The results were almost immediate as the Yellow & Blue started bore down on defense and began to claw back and pull to within just a pair of points by half-time. They then took control of the third quarter and despite going down by 7-points late in the game, had the wherewithal to rip off a 16-2 run to notch a win against a team that needed the victory more than ever to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot. “After the timeout we got concentrated,” Sfairopoulos stated. We didn’t let them score easy baskets and that allowed us to find good options offensively. We did not panic, we played aggressive defense and then found good solutions to execute. We [beat] them with good defense. We scored 50 points in the second half and I think defense was the key, the defense we played against these players after halftime, as we had also production on offense.”

Chris Jones – Photo Credit:


Chris Jones once again played a central part of the victory as the guard continued to come into his own with Maccabi. It may have taken him a longer time to get into the swing of things in Euroleague play, but since mid-February Jones has shown the ability to not only score the ball but be a pass first point guard. The floor general has also spoken about the importance to keep on fighting all the way to the end just as Sfairopoulos has constantly preached, “We need to fight all the games, game by game.” Jones himself spoke about fighting for the win no matter where Maccabi may be on the standings, “[The key for what happened in the end was] being poised, just trying to show ourselves, to everybody else, that we still have to fight regardless the standings. It’s just a couple of games left, and we have to continue fighting, no matter the outcome. [Our approach for next games is] just continue to fight no matter the outcome or the standings, and to build within ourselves.” Dragan Bender who set his career high in points with 16 in Euroleague play and scored some big points in the fourth quarter with a pair of triples, echoed his teammate’s comments, “[This win] is really important for us. We know we are out of the playoffs but we want to fight these last games. We want to show we are still a good team, still playing hard on both ends of the floor no matter what and I think we showed that tonight.”


Next up for Maccabi is Barcelona back in Israel on Tuesday night and then a trip to Belgade for a date with Red Star on Thursday. With Pau Gasol being officially introduced by Barcelona on Thursday it looks like the 2x NBA champion will be heading to the Holy Land to play against the Yellow & Blue which will certainly be a treat for all of the fans who will descend on Yad Eliyahu. Here is what Gasol had to say, “I am very grateful and happy to be back home” said Pau Gasol on his official presentation as a Barça player. “It’s a very special moment for me. I left the club as a player 20 years ago and I have been doing different kinds of work as a club representative in recent years. I am very grateful to the club for the welcome and all of its help, and to my family, because everything I’ve achieved is thanks to them … I am very excited to be joining this great team and doing what is asked of Saras and his staff, contributing something unique to the club and the team. And thanks to the fans for their affection and the excitement that I can sense, which I’d like to repay with titles … I am working hard on my recovery and following the plan that I set with Saras, the coaches and the doctors. I don’t want to create any false hope but I think we’re on the right track. I saw the light a few days ago and now I’m looking forward to playing competitively. It’s been a difficult process. I always wanted to give myself a chance. My discipline and hunger to play have pushed me to where I am today. I always knew that whatever happens I’ve had a grand career. But I want to end my career playing and enjoying competition. I am just as ambitious and keen to do well as I was the day I left.”

Sign up for our newsletter


You may also like…


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!