Maccabi Tel Aviv played its first home game in Belgrade’s iconic Aleksandar Nikolic Hall on Thursday night, defeating Bayern Munich 93-90. Bonzie Colson (19 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals), Lorenzo Brown (13 points, 7 assists, 3 steals and 1 block), Wade Baldwin IV (12 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals) and Jasiel Rivero (12 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block) led the scoring for the Yellow & Blue, while Carsen Edwards (17 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists), Serge Ibaka (16 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist) and Leandro Bolmaro (12 points, 5 assists and 1 steal) led the way for the visitors.
The Good: Getting the W
While Bayern got the first points of the game and out to a 4-point lead early, Maccabi steadied with their first points of the quarter through Brown after 3 minutes. After a slow first quarter, after which Bayern led 19-17, Maccabi started to get on top, winning the second and third quarters and looking like they would win the game as long as they played consistency.
Maccabi had an 8-point lead going into the final 10 minutes. Although Bayern got to within one point courtesy of an Ibaka dunk with a little under three minutes remaining, they held on through some clutch plays from Brown down the stretch, to get the win. Given the current situation in Israel, there isn’t much more that the fans can ask for at this point.
“I’m very happy about the win,” Maccabi head coach Oded Katash said after the win. “In the EuroLeague, the next game is always the most important one and it’s always like that. I am really happy for the players, especially for our fans as we have found a way in the last month to get wins and stay competitive even though it’s really crazy circumstances.”
It was also a boost for the team to have Baldwin in the team for his first game of the season, returning to the lineup after injuring his back pre-season.
“Just playing our game moving the ball, rebounding, getting back in transition, move the ball offensively, hit big shots and it was good to have Wade [Baldwin] back,” game MVP Colson said. “We got to keep it up.”
“We’re happy that Wade is back because the EuroLeague is very tough and we need everyone with us,” guard Tamir Blatt (11 points and 5 assists) said.
The Bad: Lapses in concentration
Getting the W was important, but there is a lot to improve on. There were too many moments in the game at which Maccabi had the opportunity to put the game out of their opponents’ reach, but Bayern kept coming back and making the most of Maccabi’s brain fades. These occurred both on defense and on offense, with 17 turnovers (6 of which came from returnee Baldwin) against the 20 assists and 12 steals.
Only 90 seconds before halftime, Maccabi was out to a 46-38 lead, but Bayern clawed back with the last 6 points of the quarter to go into the main break only 2 points down and started the third quarter with a basket to make it a 10-0 run. Similarly, as noted above, the 8-point lead after 30 minutes was reduced to just 1 point, with the Yellow & Blue making it difficult for themselves, but ultimately getting the win. However, they will need to improve to get wins against better teams.
“I am very happy that we found a way to win even though it wasn’t our best performance,” Katash said of the game.
Blatt concurred: “In regards of the game, I think we did good job. We played well offensively, defensively they scored 90 points but they are a very talented team.”
The Ugly: Home games away from home
Basketball gives Israelis the chance to escape from the reality of the war with Hamas, something that we’re all grateful for. However, it’s difficult to watch a Maccabi home game with no crowd – the Yad Eliyahu crowd which is the proverbial 6th man for Maccabi. It’s undoubtedly difficult for the team, with the players not needing any more reminders of the situation back home while they’re playing the game.
“I am really happy for the players, especially for our fans as we have found a way in the last month to get wins and stay competitive, even though it’s really crazy circumstances,” Katash said of the home games in Belgrade. “Hopefully we can find a home here and the people here are awesome and we love being here but it’s never like home, but maybe it will make us better.”
“I am very happy to get the win, but still in every press conference in the last month we are thinking of our fans, the soldiers and we are proud of the result but we are also happy for them,” Katash continued. “We have been able to find a way to get some W’s in these tough times. Maybe things will get easier having a home here in Belgrade. To play a home game without our crowd is tough and we had to find our energy inside ourselves. They hit some tough shots but we came with a better sense of urgency in the second half. It was not pretty but we played against a very good team and we found a way to get the W and hopefully we will play better in the next one. I am proud of the players in these tough times.”
“First, I want to talk about the situation back in Israel,” Blatt said at the start of his post-game interview. “All of us are praying for the families, for all the kidnapped people, we want them all back home and hopefully we could put a smile own the faces of the people.”
“It’s great having a home court,” Colson said. Obviously we miss Tel Aviv and playing in front of our fans, they’re the best fans in the EuroLeague, we definitely miss them but it’s good to be able to play the game we all love.”
Up Next: Olympiacos and Fenerbahçe at home in Belgrade
Maccabi now prepares for a double week in Belgrade, hosting Olympiacos on Tuesday night (21:05 IST / 14:05 EST) following by Fenerbahçe on Thursday night (21:05 IST / 14:05 EST) after the Turks agreed to switch their home game with Maccabi due to the war.
“Two great teams,” Blatt said of the opponents. “The EuroLeague is very competitive and I am happy that we got the win today. Get some rest tomorrow and get ready for the double week.”