Poythress: Somebody’s got to be first, why not us? Maccabi readies for game 5 at Monaco

May 10, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

Are there any two words to a European basketball fan that are greater than “game five”? In this year’s EuroLeague quarterfinals, we’ve been blessed that three of the four series have gone to a fifth and deciding game. On Tuesday night, Olympiacos defeated Fenerbahçe 79-68 in game 5 of their series. Tonight, Real Madrid host Partizan Belgrade in game 5 of their series to see who will play against Barcelona in Kaunas in a little over week in the Final Four.

Of course, for Sabras and Israeli basketball fans worldwide, the most interesting game is Wednesday’s decider between AS Monaco and Maccabi Tel Aviv (21:00 IDT / 14:00 IDT). The momentum between the teams has changed multiple times throughout the series: Maccabi won game away 79-67 and game 4 at home 104-69; and Monaco won game 2 at home 83-78 and game 3 away 86-74.

John Dibartolomeo and Mike James – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Obviously, the teams know each other very well,” Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo said in advance of the final game of the series. “Obviously some small adjustments game to game, but overall we know what works best for us against them, controlling their guards, controlling the defensive rebounds and getting out in transition, that’s been a strength for us all season and especially against Monaco, so we have to keep that up.”

“Like you said, there were four different games,” Maccabi big man, Alex Poythress, said. “It’s a battle, it’s a war. Monaco is a good team. But if we stay focused and play our game, I’m sure it’ll be ok.”

Everything came together in game 4 for the Yellow & Blue: Maccabi scored a EuroLeague playoff team high of 104 points; their star backcourt of Lorenzo Brown and Wade Baldwin IV finally both found their touch to be the best players on the court with performance index ratings of 25 and 21 respectively, while the influence of Monaco’s backcourt was reduced to the effect that only Mike James scored in double-figures; Maccabi compellingly won the rebound battle 46-35, with Poythress, Josh Nebo and Bonzie Colson pulling 6 boards each; and DiBartolomeo found some form for the first time in the series, scoring a perfect 9/9 from the foul line.

Bonzie Colson – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman.

Although by now the teams are fairly familiar with each other, everyone knows that tonight will be a different game.

“It won’t be easy, just like in the other games,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash assessed. “We will try to set the pace of the game that we want, like we did in game 4 – games 3 and 4, but in game 4 we simply had a better shooting percentage. We’re hoping for good.”

“I don’t think game 4 has any impact on game 5,” DiBartolomeo commented. “You know, every game starts 0-0. Every game you win or lose counts as one game. Game 4 is long in the past, all of our focus is on game 5.”

Of course, it’s going to be a challenge playing the game in Monaco, with the home team finishing fourth and earning homecourt advantage for a reason and they will do all that they can to stop Maccabi from getting a victory.

Alpha Diallo – Photo Credit: Yehuda Halickman

“We worked hard all year for home court advantage and we are motivated to get this win,” Monaco forward Alpha Diallo said. Of their home crowd, he said: “I think the crowd will be into it regardless. It will help us that we’ll pack this place with as much of our fans as possible. They are diehard fans and we need them for this game. We want to give them something to be amped up about.”

“The coach, experienced players like me, will have to find the words to re-motivate everyone,” Monaco center Donatas Motiejunas said. “Letting Maccabi play at the pace they want is not possible. Game 5 will be do-or-die. We will have to give everything.”

Last season, Monaco was in the same position as Maccabi – coming into a hostile arena for game 5, going down to Olympiacos 94-88. While 43 of 54 games in best-of-five-game series have been won by the home team (including last night’s game), of the 16 games which have gone to five games, the home team is undefeated. Although history is not on their side, this is something which Maccabi is going to embrace.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“It’s clear that we’re a lot better when we have to prove something – also to ourselves,” Katash said of his team. “The history is enough – what is it, 15-0 to home teams in game 5? Just that shows that we’re underdogs. If that matters, it’s to our advantage.”

“Obviously, we have a challenge ahead of us playing on the road, but we’ve proven to ourselves time and time again that we can play with any team in any gym – and we won there in game 1,” DiBartolomeo said. “It’ll be a challenge, but it’s a great opportunity for us and like we’ve said, we’ve worked hard to earn this opportunity and I know we’ll be ready tomorrow.”

While many have already assessed Maccabi’s EuroLeague season as a success, with many not seeing them reach the playoffs, let alone game 5 in the quarterfinals, now that the team is here they are hungry to win.

Poythress echoed these sentiments: “Somebody’s got to be the first, right? There’s no problem – why not us? We love being on the road, we love being underdogs. We have that mentality and I think we’ll be ok.”

John Dibartolomeo – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I think it’s been a great series,” DiBartolomeo concluded. “All the games, both teams are fighting, everybody know the meaning. I don’t think tomorrow will be any different. Backs against the wall, everyone will give everything they have, there’s no saving it for another day.”

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