Mission Impossible? The rope is running out on Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague season after loss to Milano

I hate to say it, but it looks like Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague season is coming to an end sooner rather than later. Yes, there are still 11 games to go and mathematically the Yellow & Blue can still find their way into the playoffs as they currently hold a 10-13 record, but watching them play tonight and losing 87-68 convincingly to Milano leaves much to be desired as to their effort and fight that we have gotten used to seeing on a game in game out basis.

There wasn’t that energy that we have seen from Maccabi, walking the ball up with no sense of urgency or committing a foul when it was desperately needed or challenging the Milano shooters who went 75% and 41% respectively from 2 and 3.

Shavon Shields – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

“We didn’t hit shots and they did,” stated a disappointed Elijah Bryant following the game. “We didn’t come to fight as we showed during the last few practices. We’ll regroup and get back together and continue to fight until the end regardless of the results.”

Sure Maccabi was able to cut the Milano lead to just 6-points forcing Ettore Messina to call timeout early on in the third quarter, but right out of the break Gigi Datome and Kevin Punter hit a trio of triples to bump the lead right up to 15 points to essentially close out the game there and then. Milano was taking no chances and played like a second place team should.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Milano

“There were moments where we came to within 6 or 9 points,” said a disappointed Ioannis Sfairopoulos. “But we didn’t have a good game both defensively and offensively. There are fewer and fewer games but we will fight until the end.”

Maccabi certainly had their chances to find a way back into the game but it felt like it was never there for them. As well as Milano had played in the first half, somehow the lead was only 12 points which left the door a creek open for the Yellow & Blue to potentially do something. “Basketball is a game of runs and we made a couple but it just wasn’t enough,” said Chris Jones. “We got to keep fighting as a team, pick each other up and get better every day. There is still a lot more games to figure it out and I feel that we can make a really big run. Just continue to believe in ourselves and everything we are doing. I think we will be ok.”

Chris Jones – Photo Credit: Milano

Sfairopoulos is still waiting for that big run of games, but one look at the results over the first 23 games, one will find that Maccabi has not won more than 2 games in a row and they have done that just three times. So I’m not sure where that big run of wins is coming from and if it should even be expected especially now when their backs are against the proverbial wall with their star and leader Scottie Wilbekin nursing a right thumb injury that was wrapped.

“Wilbekin?” began Sfairopoulos. “He had a problem with his thumb on his right hand in the last practice. As we said already before the game he was questionable and he was not in a good form to play the game because this was annoying him the thumb.” First off it was never indicated prior to the matchup that Wilbekin was questionable and that there was an issue and second if that was the case, then why did he play?

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Euroleague.net

The guard scored a goose egg going 0/6 in 18 minutes while barely playing down the stretch. Without their top scorer winning games from here on in is going to be very, very difficult. But Wilbekin’s performance wasn’t just due to the injury, that’s just an excuse if you listen to what Milano coach Ettore Messina said, “Malcolm Delaney was a big key with his defense on Wilbekin and we had good ball movement with good shots but the defense kept us ahead.”

Messina continued to praise the team’s defense as being the main reason his squad was able to chalk up they victory, “The game was built on the defense. We held a high-scoring Maccabi team to 68 points. I think my players played a wonderful defensive game.”

Shavon Shields – Photo Credit: Milano

One of Milano’s stars on the night and perhaps their most valuable player, Shavon Shields echoed his coach’s sentiments, “It was a win, and we have 10 games to go in the regular season, so everybody is fighting for playoff position. We knew it was a big one. They scared us there for a second in the third quarter, but we finished it with good defense.”

Interestingly enough, Shields got his game off to a hot start with some superb moves on an overmatched Oz Blazyer during the game’s first couple of minutes calling for the ball and going right at him as the Israeli committed two fouls that sent him to the bench and perhaps the game plan out the window. That’s not to say that Blayzer didn’t deserve a starting role. After a wonderful showing over the past few weeks, he rightfully earned his place, but his inexperience against a player like Shields, who is having arguably his best season as a pro was blatant and put the Yellow & Blue into an early hole, one that they couldn’t dig out of.

With Kevin Punter leading the potent Milano offense with 15 points plus a combined 42 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists by the quartet of Michael Roll, Sergio Rodriguez, Kyle Hines and Gigi Datome who have an average age of 34 years old, the Italian team could hurt anyone with every single player on their roster. In fact, Rodriguez score his 3,000th point as he became only the 8th player in Euroleague history to hit that mark.

“I feel like I’ve been playing for a long time,” Rodriguez said. “I still enjoy this like it’s the first day. I’m happy to be on this team and have the teammates I have, the club, the coaches. It’s a great journey for me.”

Photo Credit: Milano

One player who didn’t have the opportunity to score his first Euroleague points was TJ Cline who was left out of the squad despite traveling with the team. It’s a shame that Cline didn’t dress as he is known for his high energy and effort. Cline said after his Maccabi debut earlier in the week that he would be the best cheerleader should he not play and it’s too bad that that was the case, because the Yellow & Blue could have really used his basketball abilities on the court.

Time is running out and yes Maccabi could still make a run but with five teams ahead of them for the final playoff spot, it’s going to be a very difficult and nearly an impossible mission to accomplish. Maybe, just maybe with the return of the fans the Yellow & Blue could go on a run of some sort but it’s getting to the point where it’s really almost the end of the road. The rope is running out and so is the hope to make the playoffs in their season.

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