“Since I arrived at Maccabi, every game is a playoff game”
When Oded Katash entered the press conference room after last week’s critical Euroleague win over Baskonia one thing was crystal clear; he was one happy man.
Katash’s team Maccabi Tel Aviv moved their record to 16-13 on the season and with just five games to go, the yellow-and-blue are in prime position to punch their ticket to the postseason. Sure the Israeli team faced Real Madrid last season at they participated in the playoffs, with the key word being participated as they were unceremoniously swept in three straight games.
But now, with a brand new team that was put together for just this, about to find a way into the postseason and then roll the dice and see where they land as they try to make it to the Final Four, things couldn’t be better for Katash in his second term with the club.
There’s no question that the goal placed on Katash’s head was to advance to the playoffs, but regardless this would be a massive accomplishment for the club that was deconstructed in the summer and reconstructed into a team that has finally hit its stride.
When Baskonia came to Tel Aviv last week, Katash said that he took their first meeting of the season which resulted in a 29-point loss in Vitoria personally and that he wanted to ensure that his team would redeem themselves for that brutal, brutal loss that took place near the beginning of the campaign.
Redeem they did with a 93-79 win in a game that saw huge runs by both teams that could have easily influenced the game to go one way of the other.
However, Maccabi was able to whether a 15-0 run to start the second half to move to within just two wins of most probably clinching a playoff spot with three games to go at home and two on the road.
Maccabi is in quite the position right now where they have a road game against one of the weaker teams in the competition in ASVEL Villeurbanne and then return hime to play the Italian pair of teams in Bologna and Milano who are both in need of a minor miracle to make it to the postseason.
With these thee games on tap, Maccabi needs to take care of business right here and right now, win out those three games and move to 19-13 with a chance to not only take their talents to the playoffs but to also have a very good opportunity to move into 6th place.
Hold on though, how about the last two games?
Well, those are at Zalgiris in Lithuania and against Real Madrid at home.
The last thing that Maccabi Tel Aviv wants to do is to have to go into those two games needing a win or even two to make it to the playoffs.
Katash knows it, the players know it and the fans certainly know it as well.
However, the way they have played over the past couple of weeks would indicate that there is no reason to think that Maccabi won’t be able to accomplish what they need to do now and not later.
That’s why the ever dour and straight faced Katash actually showed some life is because he knows that his team has finally found the right track to be on in unison as one team.
Questions around how guards Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin would be able to play together looks to have been finally put to rest. Over the first couple of months the dynamic duo were feeling each other out and then the latter was injured and missed time. From there the former was bitten by the injury bug and it was really only in February that the two once again began playing with one another. After a few weeks of sharing the floor once again, the pair looks to have figured it out which is just one of a number of reasons Katash has been able t9 breathe easier.
Next up was the insertion of Jake Cohen back into the starting lineup. It’s clear that when the Davidson product is on the floor he acts like another coach on the court who can help the other four players around him be better. The Israeli/American forward may not score, but he doesn’t need to as he moves the ball from side to side and allows those players around him to find the bottom of the basket.
While we’re on the topic of naturalized Israelis, it should be noted that the captain John Dibartolomeo is having arguably his best year since joining the yellow-and-blue more than a half a decade ago. John D is hitting clutch 3-pointer after clutch 3-pointer and is not only a fan favorite as the fans serenade him to the famous Bruce Channel tune of “Hey Baby” he is a game changer time and time again. Katash has complete trust in Dibartolomeo and it shows.
Euroleague rookie Bonzie Colson is having a terrific season and should be locked up sooner rather than later on a long term contract with the club. The forward has been the club’s most consistent scorer game in and game out as he leaves it all on the line for the team no matter if it’s an Israeli league game against one of the weaker teams or in a Euroleague clash against the best of the best. The key thing with Colson is that when he’s struggling to find his shot, he still does so many other things including taking one rebound after the next.
Jarell Martin is another continental first timer and can change the game on a dime with his lethal scoring and all his knack for rebounding down the stretch of the game. While there were times when it wasn’t clear if the forward got it, there’s no question no that he has figured it out.
After his Euroleague debut season with Zalgiris last year, Josh Nebo has had his ups and downs this season, but once again just like the other players on a brand new squad, the big man who played his first season in Europe with Hapoel Eilat has also come into his own. In a game that saw Maccabi unable to dish out many assists against Baskonia, Nebo was able to take the bull by the horns and not only grab rebounds but find the bottom of the basket as well. So much so was Nebo huge for Maccabi, he had a double-double already at halftime.
Once Maccabi is clicking offensively now, their defense is also falling right into place. Shots that had been falling for the opposition time and time again especially from beyond the arc are suddenly being met with a hand in the shooters face and tighter defense on the 3-point line.
The yellow-and-blue are stopping some of the most lethal marksman including Markus Howard wh8 they held to just 1/8 from 3-point land. While Katash didn’t want to take all of the credit for his team’s airtight defense and also said that they were lucky in some cases, the bottom line is that you have to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good.
As the Euroleague season heads into the twilight, there’s no reason to think that Maccabi Tel Aviv won’t be able to make noise and create their own March Madness in money time as thus seem to be peaking just at the tight time to make some serious noise.