Milano defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 92-88 in a hard flight entertaining battle in Italy. The loss broke the Yellow & Blue’s 6 game Euroleague winning streak as they will now look ahead to a date later this week with Barcelona. During halftime, Milano honored one of the all time Italian basketball greats, Dino Meneghin with a stirring ceremony as Maccabi Tel Aviv chairman Shimon Mizrahi presented Meneghin with a memento for the occasion.
The two squads put on an entertaining show for the fans which included over 200 Maccabi supporters with back and forth play throughout the 40 minutes. Scottie Wilbekin led all scorers with 25 points that’s in part to six 3-pointers, Tyler Dorsey added 14 points and Tarik Black chipped in with 13 points and 9 rebounds. Luis Scola was the top scorer for Milano with 20 points, Sergio Rodriguez clocked in with 18 points and 11 assists and Vladimir Micov had 13 points on the night.
Maccabi Tel Aviv and Milano traded baskets early on in the first quarter as ex-Maccabi guard Michael Roll played tight defense on Scottie Wilbekin holding him to only 2 points on 2 shots. ButTarik Black scored from the inside, Yovel Zoosman found buckets on transition while Elijah Bryant cancelled out Taleb Tarczewski, Luis Scola and Sergio Rodriguez’s baskets as the squads ended the frame all knotted up at 21.
Deni Avdija lit up the Yellow & Blue in the second quarter with a triple and a steal as Quincy Acy and Othello Hunter blocked back to back shots as Maccabi jumped out to a 28-23 advantage forcing Milano coach Ettore Messina to call timeout. But Rodriguez nailed a 3-pointer, Tarczewski scored from the inside and Scola put home a layup to give the hosts a 31-30 lead midway through the frame. Rodriguez and Scola continued to score for Milano while Ioannis Sfairpoulos’s crew saw points from Nate Wolters and Wilbekin but Jeff Brooks, Paul Biligha and Vladimir Micov answered right back to take a 47-42 advantage into halftime,
Tarczewski and Micov helped increase Milano’s lead in the third quarter but Wilbekin sunk pair of of shots from long distance, however, Rodriguez and Brooks padded the hosts advantage to 10 points, 58-48 with 5:50 remaining in the third quarter. Sfairpoulos went to a 3-big man front line of Acy, Hunter and Black which started to work nicely as Maccabi went ahead but Nemanja Nedovic had the hot hand as he scored a trio of triples to give Messina a 71-64 lead after thirty minutes.
Nedovic continued his scoring spree and Scola added a 3-pointer to open up a 76-64 lead capping off a 13-0 run just a minute into the fourth quarter. But once again Sfairopoulos went to the 3-big men rotation and received points inside from Hunter and outside from Wilbekin and Tyler Dorsey to cut the lead to 76-72. Once again Scola, Brooks and Rodriguez gave Milano a 87-79 lead with two minutes left in regulation but Maccabi refused to lay down as Wilbekin, John DiBartolomeo and Black gave the Yellow & Blue hope. However, that hope was short lived as Scola came up big once again and Rodriguez hit a pair of free throws to seal a 92-88 Milano victory.
1) Let’s lead off the 3-Pointers with the 3-Big Men, Quincy Acy, Othello Hunter and Tarik Black. With 5:50 left in the third quarter and down by ten points with the game slipping away, Coach Sfairpoulos went to 3-big men in the lineup instead of the traditional five positions. The impact was immediate as Maccabi not only was able to run down their rival, they took the lead. Milano again jumped out to a big 12 point lead in the final frame but the trio helped the guards run Milano down. But at the end of the day it just wasn’t enough. “We played a heck of a game on the road with a couple mistakes here and there,” explained Black. “We’ve done it before against Alba Berlin and Quincy, Othello and I can guard multiple positions.” Quincy Acy also looked back at game, “It’s a tough loss. We’re a veteran team playing on the road we haven’t done anything yet. That’s the game of basketball at times we played great D, but we have a lot to learn. I feel good in general and there are great competition and players and atmosphere here in the Euroleague. I’m glad at where I’m at.” Finally Coach Sfairpoulos explained why he went to the big man rotation, “For two reasons. First is was to counter Milano’s big lineup and second, we wanted to use Quincy Acy to isolate Sergio Rodriguez as defended their pick and roll.”
2) One of Maccabi’s offseason signings Othello Hunter took the loss to heart. The center came over from Euroleague champs CSKA Moscow over the summer and was greeted at the airport by hundreds of fans singing and dancing this past August. The Yellow & Blue faithful understood not only the magnitude of player they got but also what a top, top person the Yellow & Blue brought in. When the lockerroom was opened to the media following the game Hunter did not yet want to speak and was still in deep thought contemplating the defeat. He said that he would talk a bit later to me when I approached and true to his word he did just that after exchanging pleasantries with former teammate Sergio Rodriguez, but took the defeat on himself. “No loss is good. For me I felt like we need to step up the defense. I felt good about the big man rotation. But we lost the game because I didn’t play well on 1 on 1 defense. I’m ready to do what I need to do to going forward.” Hunter is just one amazing person and leader proving exactly why Maccabi brought him in.
3) Sergio Rodriguez and Luis Scola sliced and diced Maccabi Tel Aviv to the tune of 38 points. Hold on, the Scola who played in the NBA how many years ago and Rodriguez who had a rough season last year at CSKA despite winning the title? Yes, those two. The pair were unstoppable for Milano and provided a massive 1-2 punch for coach Ettore Messina time and time again. Scola at 39(!) and Rodriguez at 33 played as if they were ten years their junior and put on a terrific showing. It was incredible to watch how they burnt the Yellow & Blue time and time again. Somehow they have turned back the clock and defeated not only Maccabi but possibly even Father Time.
As a fan you live for games like this. Passion, grit, desire and drive of the players playing top level basketball and just not wanting to lose no matter what. Everyone left it all on the court for the full 40 minutes from both sides which makes one fantasize about a potential playoff series between the two teams and what a five game series would look like. Well if this was any indication we’d get one heck of a series! I asked Coach Sfairpoulos about his thoughts on a playoff series and he said with a huge smile, “These are very interesting games and the fans enjoyed these games. I hope we will have many of those games in the regular season but it’s too early to look at the playoffs.” It’s certainly early to talk playoffs and we all know that, but that’s the beauty of sports, it’s the chance to discuss, debate and fantasize about what could, would and should be. And when you recognize as to what we all saw it makes you want more.
I had the privilege to ask coach Ettore Messina a question in the post game press conference about what it’s like to coach in a game that was truly a chess match and he didn’t shy away from the answer, “The most important thing is that I have a huge respect for Coach for Sfairpoulos. He has done well everywhere he has been and he has Maccabi playing very effectively and we had to be very alert as he could change his lineup after a timeout or make a smart adjustment. On one hand as a coach you enjoy this a challenge but on the other it’s hard to have to be on the other side of the court making the decisions.
They Said It..
Ioannis Sfairopoulos: “We saw a high level Euroleague game between two teams that have quality and provided different tactics and strategic moves from both sides. I think this was one of the best Euroleague games of ours. It’s tough to lose a game but I congratulated them for their fighting spirit. It was important that every time Milano got a small lead we kept coming back in the game and it was important we fought until the last second of the game. Milano has many experienced players but we saw great character and fighting spirit but if we took care of some small details both offensively and defensively we could have had a different outcome.”
More Sfairopoulos: “Our defense allowed a lot of points. If you want to win on the road you have to play better defense. We will take a deep breath and continue on. I want to give a big hug to our fans that are here in Milano. Their voice was always in our ear and helped us fight to the end. I want to wish Messina good luck.”
Scottie Wilbekin: “We played pretty well and this will help us with close games. Now we need to know how to handle those close games.”
Michael Roll: “It was a nice win with a lot riding on the game and it was fun seeing the guys out there. Messina is a basketball genius and he brings a mental toughness to the game.”