Maccabi Tel Aviv won its third consecutive EuroLeage game on Thursday, with a 93-79 win over Saski Baskonia at Yad Eliyahu. Wade Baldwin IV (24 points, 7 rebounds and 8 assists), Lorenzo Brown (17 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists) and Josh Nebo (15 points and 14 rebounds) spearheaded the attack for the Yellow & Blue, while Rokas Geidraitis (18 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal) and Darius Thompson (17 points, 7 assists and 3 steals) lead the scoring for the visitors.
Here are a few of my reflections from the round 29 clash.
The Good: Josh Nebo and the team’s rebounding efforts
Nebo did not earn MVP honors tonight – Baldwin was superb in the victory – but given the criticism that he has come under for a large chunk of the season, he has earned my “Good” for tonight’s game.
Coming into the game, the teams were evenly matched statistically, with Maccabi averaging 34.7 rebounds per game to Baskonia’s 34.0. In the November matchup between these two teams in Vitoria, Baskonia won the battle 39-27. Tonight, however, was almost the polar opposite, with Maccabi winning the rebound count 47-30. Crucially, the Maccabi bigs allowed Baskonia to pull down only 10 offensive rebounds, which prevented the Spaniards from getting too many second-chance scoring opportunities.
Nebo already had himself a double-double after 20 minutes, going into the locker room at the main break with 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 14 rebounds that he had to his name by the end of the game is a new career high for him, with his previous best being 13 against ALBA Berlin back in January.
“It felt good that we fought as a team – we stuck together through the highs and the lows of the game,” Nebo said following the win. “I feel like my job is to rebound and get the team extra possessions and go out there to play to this ability.”
“Josh for us is much more than that,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said of his center. “He’s one of the best big defenders in the EuroLeague, he gives us a lot. He’s a great rebounder. You need to remember – he’s not a player with a wealth of EuroLeague experience. He’s still at the beginning of his journey and he has a lot of upside.
“I can’t explain to you how positive and focused he is and how much he wants to succeed. He’s a great guy – it’s a pleasure to coach him. He has a lot on which to improve and he has a lot of upside. I love him and he was great for us.”
A special mention should also go to Bonzi Colson (11 points, 9 rebounds and 1 steal), who, after getting into foul trouble in the first half which restricted his gametime, was one rebound shy of a double-double as well tonight.
Baldwin had praise for both Nebo and Colson post-game: “Josh was big for us and was dominant with big decisions. We got defensive rebounds and we got those. Bonzie had a rough game, but he did a great job with 9 rebounds and made big plays when it mattered most.”
The Bad: Turnovers
As a team this season, Maccabi averages 15.3 assists and 11.4 turnovers. Tonight, Maccabi recorded 12 assists and 15 turnovers.
“Generally when you have a statistic like that, you lose,” Katash reflected after the game. “But that statistic is partly because of how Baskonia defended us at the end of the day. They tried to help each other less, not like we’re used to where teams come together in the paint against us. It is an exceptional stat.”
Notwithstanding, while not disastrous, Katash will not want to see negative assist-to-turnover ratios going forward.
The Ugly: Before and after halftime
Maccabi opened the game strongly, leading 29-23 at the end of the first quarter and then 43-29 with 5:50 left on the clock in the second quarter. Baskonia then ended the second quarter with a 16-6 run to find themselves down 49-45 at half time. They then came out of the locker room and scored 15 points to zero in the first four minutes of the second half, Maccabi finding itself down 49-60 with the visitors silencing the home crowd.
Maccabi avoided a catastrophe by finishing the quarter with a 23-5 run – including 10 points from Baldwin and 7 points from Brown – giving them a 72-65 lead going into the final frame, a lead which they never relinquished.
“Sometimes when you open a game so well and the game suddenly turns on you, you lose a bit of confidence – both the gameplan and each player himself,” Katash pondered post-game. “It was important in the timeout [which Katash called down 49-58] to remain positive and focus and not to try to do everything immediately, although the game did turn again very quickly.
“We played against a good team against whom you also need to know how to attack, prevent their run. In those 10 minutes of their run – the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter – we didn’t attack correctly enough. We turned the ball over a lot and gave them easy points. Essentially, we gave them back their confidence and got them back into the game.”
Up Next: Gilboa/Galil at home and Villeurbanne away
In local league action, league-leader Maccabi hosts last-placed Hapoel Gilboa/Galil on Sunday evening (21:00 IST / 15:00 EST). They will then fly to France for their next EuroLeague game, a matchup against 17th-place ASVEL Villeurbanne on Thursday night (21:05 IST / 14:05 EST). While Villeurbanne only have 8 wins this season and lost 82-86 at home tonight to 16th place Panathinaikos, Maccabi does not want to underestimate their opponents.
“I know and I hear people – maybe people think that we’re favorites against Villeurbanne,” Katash said. “It would be a mistake for us to think this way. We’ve learned about ourselves that thinking of ourselves as favorites is not good for us. I also really think that there’s not an away game in the EuroLeague where you can feel like you’re the favorites.”
Nebo concurred with that mindset: “We need to keep and stay humble – keep pushing and stay hungry.