Maccabi Tel Aviv not only showed a ton of toughness and perseverance in defeating Milano 98-90 earlier this week in Euroleague play, they also lifted a nation that is embroiled in a war against the evil enemy Hamas. After a subpar performance in a loss to Monaco the prior week, it was clear to all and especially to head coach Oded Katash that what occurred in the Principality could not happen again.
The effort had to be there from not just the tip-off but for way before the referee would toss the ball in the air. While the defense was soft as a baby’s bottom for the first half which was something that both Katash and Bonzie Colson admitted during the halftime interviews, the yellow-and-blue were able to button down the hatches in the second half and down the stretch to take the 8-point victory and move their record to 3-2.
There is no question that Milano has plenty of issues, they are shall we say extremely weak on the defensive end as their bench boss, Ettore Messina said in his postgame comments going as far as describing it as embarrassing to see his team allow Maccabi to do as they please on offense. But Maccabi took advantage of the matter at hand, did what they needed to do and now will get ready for their first home game at their temporary abode in Belgrade.
Maccabi is going to have many, many ups and downs ahead that is for sure due to the situation that is far, far from what any player on the team bargained for, foreigner or Israeli. Yes, they not only represent the country, more so than any of them thought they were going to have to when they signed a contract to play for the team and yes the standard is going to be higher than any other team in Israel because they play in the continent’s premier competition, the Euroleague.
Everyone from the doctor to massage therapist, from equipment manager to star player, Maccabi is going to have to put all of the difficult challenges aside and focus for 40 minutes plus preparation time beforehand in order to put in the best showing that they can game in and game out going forward.
And that’s what they did in Milan.
There are 29 games to go in the Euroleague, plenty of action and plenty of games so hopefully for the yellow-and-blue the contest in Monaco was just a one-off and not vice versa.
“It’s a great win for us, in the last 3 weeks at the press conferences between us I talk less about basketball because everything is different,” Katash explained. “Our thoughts and minds are with the people of Israel. We came here after a big loss against Monaco. We have a lot of ups and downs and to play and compete in the Euroleague is never easy especially under the circumstances. But we show character against Panathinaikos away and here against Milano.”
The bench boss continued, “I’m very proud of the guys and we came after a big loss, bad game it was not only the result, it was the way we lost. We stuck together and showed some character. We promised that we would pick up each other and stay together, we fought. We spoke at halftime about correcting a few things, control the rebound and I am so happy for our fans in Israel, we miss them, we really miss them. It was a great win for us, Milano is a great team with a lot of size. I’m very happy.”
Game MVP Lorenzo Brown was able to really ratchet up his play in this game after a couple of rough performances that saw him turn over the ball too many times for his liking to the tune of 6.5 over the past two games. The point guard who notched 20 points, 12 assists while going 4/8 from deep coughed up the ball just 4 times in close to 31 minutes to lead Maccabi to the victory. Brown knew he had to raise the level of his play, especially with the absence of wade Baldwin who is still out of action due to a back issue but should be returning to action slowly but surely next week.
“We just going through lot this month but we are finding a way to balance it out and play as a team,” Brown said. “Lack of practice and lack of games but we have to come in every night and play with intensity and that’s what got us this win. We have to stay focused, that’s our main goal right now as it’s a weird situation and we are trying to stay together as a team.”
No one is going to think that Maccabi is going to have an easy go here that’s for certain. With a so called home game against Bayern Munich in Belgrade’s legendary Pionir Arena next Thursday, the yellow-and-blue will try to make their home away from home as homely as possible. However, there will be no fans which will harken back to the days of Covid-19 when supporters were forced to watch the games from their homes.
Maccabi will no doubt miss them and miss the way that they can influence a game, but Pablo Laso’s team which now features NBA champion Serge Ibaka should be a win on paper or in an empty gym at least. Center Josh Nebo who scored 14 points with a number of huge baskets to help close out the game understands the pain the fans are feeling due to the war and not being able to see their heroes live and in person.
“It was a great all around team performance and I feel that everyone contributed, everyone came ready to play and it was a team win. I’m proud we fought tonight and came out getting a very hard road win, for the fans, we feel for them and it’s tough not to play in front of them but hopefully this win is something special for them and pretty soon we will be able to play in front of them again.”
Katash concurred with his second year center, “I am very proud of the guys and very happy for the club, the players first, the staff, the people of Israel and our fans. We miss them, we miss playing at home and we miss our home. So during these days the challenge is even bigger for us. That is what makes the W more special for us.”
Nebo’s compatriot in the paint Jasiel Rivero joined the team in the offseason to replace Alex Poythress who signed with Milano. The Cuban featured for Valencia last year and had some Euroleague experience before joining the yellow-and-blue but questions have been abound if he would be the right fit for this team.
If Katash had any doubt or if any fans had any doubt, boy were those put to bed quickly in Italy. How about 21 points, 4 boards, 8/9 from the field, a 26 efficiency rating and a +12 for the big man? Not bad, not bad at all for the Birthday boy who celebrated his 30th in style.
“Me, myself and the staff this is our second year together and we have a lot of continuity to our team. It’s never easy for a newcomer to come in, today was his birthday so he deserved it. He was great for us and he is one of the main reasons we won in the rebounding against a team like Milano with great size. We played big lineups and it was a battle and that’s what we had to do. I am happy he found a way to score and contribute. With time he will feel even better with the system and his teammates. I am very happy for him, it was a big one.”
While the fans would love to see Rivero live and in person, right now that will not be an option due to the Matzav as they say in Hebrew or the situation that the country is now in. They would eat him up with the energy that he brings to the court. A fan favorite without a doubt is in the making.
Hopefully, Maccabi’s home away from home will be a very short term temporary one for so many reasons as the war will be a heavy cloud over the club’s head until they do return to the friendly confines of Yad Eliyahu. Katash has to keep the guys as focused and as comfortable as possible and that is no doubt what he will need to use plenty of his own energy on.
“That is our challenge, it’s even bigger off the court than on the court, to play Euroleague is challenging, Our thoughts and our minds are back home with the people and the soldiers of Israel. We spent a lot of time on the road and we miss home. It’s not only about missing home, it’s a tough situation. War is never good for no one, but we must win. Maccabi Tel Aviv like the Israeli people, we never give up and that is what we did tonight. Hopefully things will be better for all of us. I wish we will have more solidarity. I don’t want to get into politics but it’s challenging and not easy.”