Road woes to road warriors: Maccabi heads to Olympiacos looking to start 3-game trip on right foot

Jan 27, 2023 | Holyland Hoops

On Thursday, Maccabi Tel Aviv travelled to Piraeus for its round 21 EuroLeague away clash against Olympiacos. The Greek squad currently sits second in the standings (after Real Madrid’s 91-86 overtime win in the Classico against Barcelona last night), but can move back into first spot on points differential with a win tonight. Maccabi, currently sitting in 8th place, will be looking to cause an upset after their disappointing away 96-95 derby loss to Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday night.

Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“This game is probably one of the two or three most difficult games to play in the EuroLeague,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said ahead of the flight to Athens. “They are a team that is fit and strong. They are a team that typically opens games well, also at home. It’s very important, if we talk about the recent derby [on Sunday night against Hapoel], to control the pace, which we didn’t do in the first quarter at the Drive In. It’s even more important to do against Olympiacos.”

“You have to really evaluate what they do well, how we can make them uncomfortable, how we can try to bother them,” Maccabi veteran Jake Cohen explained. “They’re a really good offensive team, they have lots of weapons and they play great together. It’s no accident that they play really good offense. It’s a product of a lot of work and years together for them over there. We’re going to have a big job ahead of us, but I think we can be ready for it.”

One of the stories of Maccabi’s season has been their poor record away from home, in contrast to their league-best 9-1 home record. The Yellow & Blue come into tonight’s game with a league-worst 2-8 away record (equal with 12th-placed Partizan Belgrade, 15th-placed Panathinaikos and 17th-placed ALBA Berlin) and they now have to play away against one of the form teams of the competition.

Jake Cohen and Wade Baldwin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“I think we do a great job of taking advantage of the energy that our fans bring at home,” Cohen said of the difference between the team’s home and away records. “I think we feed off that as a team, because we like to run and we like to play fast and that can really help. It’s something we’ve wanted to improve, to bring that kind of energy on the road, but the fans aren’t there to give you a little boost when you need it or whatever it may be.

“That’s one of the things that we need to learn to do together, because even though we’ve been together for a few months, it’s only a few months and it’s a very new team. So we have these kinds of things to learn, how to bring that energy and be successful on the road.”

However, Maccabi’s poor road record does not mean that Olympiacos will be expecting an easy game.

Georgios Bartzokas – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We have to execute our game plan very accurately to beat them,” Olympiacos coach, Georgios Bartzokas, said in preparation for tonight’s game. “We don’t believe that the 2-8 record proves anything, in the sense that the EuroLeague has shown us that all games can be challenged by everyone. We will try to execute our plan and play as focused as we can, because the EuroLeague can always harbor unexpected situations.”

Maccabi and Olympiacos last met a little over two months ago, with Wade Baldwin IV starring with 22 points – including 4/7 from behind the arc and 8/8 from the line – in a come-from-behind 90-84 win at Yad Eliyahu. Olympiacos was up 69-63 at the end of the third frame in that clash, but a strong last 10 minutes saw Maccabi snatch the W. Lorenzo Brown was also instrumental in the game, with 16 points and 6 rebounds, however Maccabi will be without their star point guard for the next 2-3 weeks after he sprained his ankle in the first quarter of Maccabi’s 87-74 victory of ALBA last week.

Wade Baldwin and Oded Katash – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We trust Wade and we also trusted Lorenzo when Wade wasn’t playing,” Katash said when asked about Baldwin taking on more responsibility while Brown is out. “It’s not simple and we’ve had long periods without the two of them playing together. But [giving Baldwin more responsibility] is not something that we’ve addressed too much.

“I think Wade has done stepped up, he’s our central creator on the court. If we’re looking to Olympiacos, we know probably the best defensive guard is with Olympiacos, [Thomas] Walkup, in my opinion at least, so we’ll need other players to create other than Wade.”

One player who may give Maccabi an extra option in the front court tonight is veteran Suleiman Braimoh, who signed with the team last week after being bought out from Turkish team Tofaş S.K. Braimoh, who played under Katash at Hapoel Jerusalem between 2019 and 2021, will be looking to make his EuroLeague debut tonight.

Su Braimoh – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman, Design Yehuda Halickman

“I played against him a bunch, I know how tough he is and I think he’s going to be great for us,” Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo said of Braimoh exclusively to The Sports Rabbi Website earlier this week during Maccabi’s visit to The Iris Smith World Jewish Sports Museum at Kfar Maccabiah. “He’s a fighter, he knows Oded’s system, he knows the Israeli league. Like you said, he’s a veteran, he knows his way around. I think he’ll work in quite nicely with us. You always want someone who’s going to fight hard, who’s going to play for you and for his teammates.”

Win or lose, Maccabi will be hoping that they can at least be competitive and consistent in tonight’s game so they can take some momentum into next week’s double round away at Barcelona and Valencia.

“I think we’re in a good place,” Cohen said of the challenging away schedule beginning tonight. “You know, it’s January, so you’ve gone through some things already. I think we’ve show that we have great character in the locker room, so that’s a really positive thing. We’re coming off a tough loss, but with that character, with the confidence that we have, built from four or five months together already, I think we’re in a really good place to handle these challenges. It takes a team with commitment, hard work, perseverance, all those things to have a successful season and this next week will really test us. I think we’ll grow from it.”

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