The Lead Point
That was a crazy game! If you look at the score one may think that it was an easy victory by Maccabi Tel Aviv over Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion with not much tension, pressure or action. Well, that was certainly not the case and far, far from what the reality really was at the Drive In Arena between these two teams. Even if the game was watched on TV the the nature of the game wouldn’t have been felt, you had to be there front and center to really understand and comprehend what went on both on and off of the court between these two teams.
Where shall we begin? Well, the Yellow & Blue took off in the first quarter and opened up a huge 29 point lead near the end of the second quarter. However, the game was chippy, very chippy. Oz Blayzer had his nose put out of place in the paint, Maccabi guard Tyler Dorsey got into it with Rishon Coach Guy Goodes as to how he chucked him the ball, an incident that almost went out of hand, two unsportsmanlike fouls by Dorsey and an ejection after he elbowed Golan Gutt in the head/neck/face and one Yellow & Blue coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos who absolutely went wild at his players on the bench with his wrath directed at newcomer Max Heidegger saying “What the F—- are you doing?!?!” when the Rishon players went off and cut the lead to just 9 points near the end of the third frame.
WOW! And by the way, we also saw the same Heidegger score 12 points, Ante Zizic dominate in the paint and Scottie Wilbekin, well look like the Scottie Wilbekin of old. What did I tell you? Nuts!
“We started the game well and played very smart both on offense and defense,” Sfairopoulos said following the game. “We shot the ball really well inside and from the outside and we had a very productive first half. We stopped playing well in the third quarter good and we lost our concentration but in the 4th quarter we played better basketball and we had some good defensive stops.” Rishon coach Guy Goodes reflected on the defeat, “It was hard for us to react in the first half and Maccabi were able to do whatever they wanted to on the court especially with their superior size and physical ability. I’m happy we played better in third quarter but we have a short rotation, while Maccabi has a much more deeper bench.”
1) There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s get started. I’ve seen Coach Sfairopoulos get upset plenty of times since he’s been in Israel but I don’t think that I have ever seen him go off the way he did at poor Max as the unfortunate target (Heidegger did make a couple of errors and owed up to them after the game). But it was really not directed at him, it was directed at the players, all of them. The ones on the bench, the ones who had been playing, the ones who were in the stands. What seemed to be pent up frustration he may have had from the Euroleague losses and just playing reckless ball and blowing the lead against Rishon was released as he screamed and threw his play board. The closest I can remember him being this upset was at Rishon Le’Zion a couple of years ago during a timeout when Maccabi fell in the State Cup. Ante Zizic reflected on the moment after the game, “Coach was absolutely right he knew we could do better.” Heidegger also talked about the now infamous timeout, “I deserved it, I wasn’t doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I know coach has my best interest and the team’s best interest and it’s a learning curve as I just got here not long ago. I’m just trying to catch up as fast as I can.” However, Sfairopoulos was all smiles and said with a laugh when asked about the incident asking if he wanted to really wake the players up and make more of a show than he had to, “These are secrets of the profession. The only thing I can say is that maybe the next time I throw the coach’s board I will break it.”
2) Tyler Dorsey was edgy all game especially after the incident with Goodes. He picked up a those unsportsmanlike fouls and made a grave error in the one against Gutt that sent him packing. Add to that Maccabi didn’t seem to be to pleased with his actions towards Goodes which showed a lack of respect. Goodes himself came over to Sfairopoulos near the end of halftime to tell him what went on and then said this at the post game press conference, “He threw the ball at me in a disrespectful manner and I won’t accept that behavior. No one will throw the ball at my feet no matter what the situation is.” Maccabi handled the situation perfectly to end the strife tight there and now as coach Sfairopoulos commented after that game, “As a team we apologize to coach Goodes because of the incident and Dorsey lost his concentration and temper from a call and he acted inappropriately and already apologized to Coach Goodes and this matter is now over.”
3) Now back to the actual game on the court… I don’t know who will be able to stop Ante Zizic (16p/10r) in the Israeli league? He’s big, very big compared to his counterparts and he is also moving a lot better now than he did a few week ago as he continues to get in shape after not having played since March. His defense has ratcheted up as well and that’s a good sign for Maccabi. Zizic was dominant and unstoppable in the paint and of course while the Israeli League isn’t the same game as the Euroleague it’s got to feel good to be able to make the plays you need to and want to on the court. “The Israeli league is a quality league but it’s different than the Euroleague. It’s more small ball and more running and there are good teams here. Perhaps if we had this tournament before the Euroleague it would have been better preparation.” Coach Sfairopoulos also commented on his big man’s progression, “Zizic is one of the best Euroleague centers, big guys and sometimes he can play a a power forward. As long as we practice and play he will find a better rhythm in scoring. In the NBA the game is completely different as well as the intensity. His role here is completely different, he needs to show up for every game. He is a great guy, a hard worker and I am very happy that I have him here. He’s talented and I know he will be even better.”
Give credit to Rishon for putting together a great comeback in the third quarter. After not showing up over the first 20 minutes, Goodes was satisfied with the effort the players put in after halftime. Although he has a very short roster with a number fo players injured and with the signing of Trey Lewis who just arrived, Goodes will make waves in the league this season. Mitchell came off limping in the 4th quarter which started to worry all of us and of course Goodes, but thankfully it wasn’t anything serious. “I thought he may have had a bigger problem in his knee but it’s nothing. We will have to rest up because we have five games coming up in November.” Goodes also spoke about Lewis, “He will begin working out and then join the team on Tuesday. He has to pick up fast as the train is going we have no time to wait and he will have to learn on the go. He’s in good shape but he has to get with the program quickly.”
Coach Sfairopoulos is looking at the young players as crucial parts to the puzzle for Maccabi Tel Aviv and he helps build the next generation of Yellow & Blue. That is something difficult for a foreign coach to do as he explained at the press conference but it’s also something that he truly believes in. Whether it’s Dori Sahar, Eidan Alber, Yonatan Atias, Sandy Cohen and now newcomer Max Heidegger. “We decided we want to build a new generation of Maccabi Tel Aviv. When I eventually leave Maccabi I want there to be 7-8 good Israelis on the roster. I’m happy I work with young kids. I like to produce and not just bring results.” Of course development begins with the Israeli League as the Euroleague is a much taller task, “They aren’t ready to be Euroleague players. If we put them in the fire they will get burnt. They need to make the first step in the league. It’s slow and it’s a process. If you rush them it’s won’t be good. It’s fireworks and then it disappears if you don’t do it properly.”
Finally, let’s talk about Max Heidegger. Did anyone expect him to drain a trio of triples? Did anyone expect that he would be able to win the offense with ease? Did anyone expect that he would play 15 minutes against Rishon Le’Zion. I believe that the answer to all of these is a resounding no. Put the couple of errors on the side, Max was great. The players on the bench and in the stands cheered him on each time he put his shots in while also scoring a nice driving layup on Akil Mitchell. The kid’s got talent. “This is the first time I saw significant minutes,” Heidegger began. “I know coach wants more of that from me like organizing the game. Whatever coach wants from me I’m going to do.” How has it been to be with Maccabi so far? “It’s been awesome. It was a tough transition initially with COVID-19 and being on lockdown and coming into a new situation with all that in the background. Maccabi is one of the biggest clubs in the world and I am blessed to be here.”