1) “There should be no surprises and if there are, then we weren’t prepared mentally for this game. Everyone understands that.” Those were Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s words at the pregame press conference about how his team would be prepared for Fenerbahce who entered the contest with a 3 game losing streak. While Sfairopolous said after the game that what Bobby Dixon and Jarell Eddie were able to do wasn’t a surprise, it should be noted that the pair carved the Maccabi defense up to the tune of 17 points and 11 points respectively shooting 8 triples between the two of them on 9 shots!
But not only did they dismantle Maccabi with their outside shooting, the Yellow & Blue bench boss seemed to know that it was coming and also pointed out that his players couldn’t keep to the game plan, “When Dixon came in he changed the momentum of the game to them and our defense on him was not good. We made some mistakes tactically and our defense was not focussed to stop and to contest the shots. We could have avoided some points from our defense if we followed our rules.” The fact that Maccabi couldn’t find a way to stop Fener’s dynamic duo is major cause for concern and bears to ask the question if the current Maccabi players can play good enough defense and make the proper stops when needed. It’s crystal clear that Sfairopoulos is missing his defensive stoppers in Yovel Zoosman and John DiBartolomeo along with Quincy Acy who is still sitting at home and that his current crop of players just don’t have the ability to match the intensity that other teams have been bringing including Fener just ask Bobby Dixon himself, ”Coach, before the game, he prepared us, and he told us to take this game personal, which is why I got on my guys and I told them ‘let’s get this game personal.’ And that’s what we did. We came out, played tough, played great defense and we won.”
2) What do Markus Ericksson, Mike James, Vladimir Lucic, Sasha Vezenkov, Alexey Shved and Bobby Dixon all have in common? They have all drilled home at least four 3-pointers against Maccabi in each of their games this season. This seems to be an unfortunate pattern developing and it’s not a good one as the Yellow & Blue time and time again continue to allow a shooter absolutely light them on fire in each game. You can also add to that list Jarell Eddie who had a trio of 3’s on as many shots versus Maccabi and you have plenty of trouble. Eddie came over to Europe in 2018 when he signed with Strasbourg and played last season at Murcia under coach Sito Alonso after having played sparingly in the NBA with the Wizards, Suns, Celtics and Bulls. Eddie has since shot 45%, 154/342 from beyond the arc. That’s an impressive statistic to say the least. Sfairopoulos knew full well what damage Eddie could do before the game and Maccabi was still incapable of stopping him, “We know that Eddie is a good shooter and they have plays for him to come off of screens. We played our 4 position to Ulanovas and our 3 position to Eddie we matched up with lighter players so we could be more flexible to chase them out and contest them and that wasn’t enough. We hesitated and didn’t have clear ideas of how to defend and how to play on offense.” Pretty stark words from the coach.
When I asked Fenerbahce coach Igor Kokoskov about his sharpshooter he had this to say, “Jarell Eddie is one of the best shooters I have ever coached since I have been in this business and he is an elite shooter. He’s a super hot guy. He changes the game and changes the spacing. He just needs a little space and that shot goes up. He means so much to our group, he’s a voice in our practice in the lockerroom and his leadership ability is outstanding. We are thrilled that he is part of this group and he’s a great character. Sito Alonso told me a lot of great stuff about him that I can admit that he was right.”
3) For Maccabi it wasn’t just the defense that as shaky it was also the offense which looked like it was stuck in neutral all game long. 20/45 44% from two, 5/26 19% from 3, 10/15 from the free throw line and just 9 assists and their are very few instances where you will win the game. On an individual level Angelo Caloiaro scored 2 points, Othello Hunter 3 points, Tyler Dorsey 1 point, Dragan Bender 3 points for a total of 9 points in a combined in 97 minutes out of 200 on the court, YIKES! Those are some scary numbers. The Yellow & Blue couldn’t move the ball all night long which was partly due to Fenerbahce’s stifling defense but not just that said Sfairopoulos, “We didn’t make good decisions defensively and offensively. Mainly, we lost because of our offense. Offensively, we missed some layups, some threes and some free throws. This hurt our belief for the game and at the end, when they got the lead, we didn’t have the power to come back.” Scottie Wilbekin also commented on the power outage that Maccabi experienced, “The scoring issue is pretty similar to the other games. At times we are struggling to score, which has been the story for us this season.”
“I think we kind of deviated a little bit from the game plan,” Dragan Bender explained, “I think we saw in the first quarter, even in the first half, we played smart on offense and [attacked] the players that are kind of bad defenders in their team, we had a lot of opportunities to go to the basket, especially Scottie [Wilbekin] and Elijah [Bryant], and make easy baskets or pull-ups. We were also able to dig the ball out and have some good shots. In the second half, we tried to play a little bit of more iso, especially when they started switching, and then we kind of collapsed going towards the basket against Vesely. And also, we didn’t have very good shots from outside. Obviously, at the end of the game, we missed a couple of important shots and was the key moment.”
While we’re on the topic of Bender, the 4th pick overall in the 2016 NBA Draft began the game with a 3-pointer and we all thought that this was it, he was going to have his breakout game, the one that everyone has been waiting for. Except he didn’t. Those were his only points in 23 minutes of play. Everyone wants Bender to succeed but it was yet another disappointing performance on both ends of the floor. Following the game Bender spoke about his challenge to adapt, “The game I played the last four years is different than in Europe and it’s a different approach as we practice more and we don’t play as many games. The Israeli cup is giving us more time and I’m one of the new faces. We need to play more games and we have shown that we can play with anybody the last few games.”