The name is Nunnally, James Nunnally. Maccabi shooting reaches the stars in “must-win” at ASVEL

Well, Maccabi pulled it all together in France to put on a brilliant performance at ASVEL Villeurbanne to make sure that they came home with a 93-85 win and a split of the games on a Euroleague double week road trip. After having barely won at home over Bayern Munich in the season opener, getting manhandled at Yad Eliyahu against Red Star and in Italy at Milano in the first half, Ioannis Sfairopoulos found a way to get his ducks in order in Lyon riding the solid second half play from the Milan defeat to pick up a tough, tough road win and get back to .500 on this young season.

And how did Sfairopoulos turn around his club’s fortune? Simple. He cut down the rotation to just 8 players (giving a grand total of 6 seconds to the quartet of Israelis that were glued to the bench which we will get to later) and received both offensive and defensive contributions from every single one of them on both ends of the floor to take the victory. He came into the game super duper prepared and was going to win the game by hook or by crook. Nothing less than a win was going to be acceptable in this very winnable game especially on paper which his players were able to convert on the court.

Everything clicked for the first time this season in continental play as Keenan Evans was a perfect 3/3 from downtown and Jalen Reynolds check din with 7/11 from the field while each player scored their season high in Euroleague play. Mathias Lessort also was flawless from inside the point going 4/4 and Angelo Caloiaro with a pair of triple and a deuce also contributed mightily to the win.

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Euroleague

However, it was James Nunnally who was above them all with 25 points going 6/6 from 2 and 4/7 from 3 as Maccabi was a team shot a season best 27/36 (50%) on the inside and 10/25 for 40% from the outside. Whatever was able to go right did for the Sfairopoulos’s team and it all happened exactly at the right time to put the club at 2-2 with a trio of home games coming up in Tel Aviv.

“It’s just another game we had to win and every game matters,” Nunnally said. “The victory was very important and we didn’t have a preseason. They all count. In Milan we played better in the second half and we are learning how to play together and to do the little things correctly.”

Sfairopoulos’s crew made sure to execute the coach’s game plan to a T, “This was very important win for us. We wanted to play a good game and we were very concentrated and focussed. We controlled the game from the beginning to the end. We didn’t play well up until now and this was our best game, but we still have a lot of things to improve.”

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Scottie Wilbekin didn’t have to carry the load as Evans picked up some of the scoring from the backcourt as did James Nunnally allowing for a much more balanced attack. But as Wilbekin said, Maccabi was victorious because of the defensive side of things, “We won this game with defense. Some guys stepped up on offense but there were times when we weren’t playing well on offense and we played tight on defense. We put together a complete and full game. It was very important to get this win on a tough road trip. Splitting the games was not a bad way to go back home.”

“We played smarter and more determined as we took advantage of the mismatches. We deserved to win the game and we can play much better and continue to improve,” Sfairopoulos explained.

Keenan Evans – Photo Credit: Euroleague

Maccabi faced their former point guard in Chris Jones who has been having a phenomenal season thus far. But with Evans getting the keys to the car, he was able to match Jones almost play for play and point for point in roughly 23 minutes of action which must have put a smile on Sfairopoulos’s face after wanting to bring in the Hapoel Haifa guard to replace the aforementioned Jones.

“It was a great game for us and a much needed bounce back win,” Evans said. “We played 40 minutes of good basketball and we want to use this win and build off of it into our next game on Sunday and then the next Euroleague game.”

Another Maccabi newcomer, Mathias Lessort who was playing back in his home country of France also made a terrific contribution to the win with 9 points which most definitely put a grin on the coach’s face as he was able to really get quality play out of his center position with a combined total of 26 points and 10 boards.

Mathias Lessort – Photo Credit: Infinity Nine Media/Julie Darbon

“He is helping us really well and it was not easy to join the team in the middle of the season but you can see today that he adjusted really fast and we are very happy as to how he is performing,” Sfairopoulos explained.

Now, we all knew full well that Sfairopoulos needed to win the game at the Astroballe by any means necessary and let’s be honest there was no way that he wanted to return to the Holy Land with a 1-3 record. That was the last thing in the world that the coach would have wanted.

So to pick up the victory he basically wiped out the Israeli contingent with only Iftach Ziv seeing the floor for a total fo 6 seconds at the end of the first half. No John Dibartolomeo, no Roman Sorkin, no Oz Blayzer, no Jake Cohen (who was nor dressed for the ASVEL game but was in the squad for the Milano game but did not step onto the court).

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Now is this a problem or not?

Well, Maccabi needed to win this game and the coach felt his best chance to do so was with the 8 players who did play and that was that. Many will not be happy with the lack of Israelis but right now the situation is as such that the Yellow & Blue need to win and it doesn’t matter with who or how. Just find a way to put up a W. And that is what Sfairopoulos did. Those who will be unhappy, well, live with it for now. As the season continues they will all be contributors.

Ziv was a key player in the Bayern win, Dibartolomeo has received plenty of playing time in Europe so far while Roman Sorkin is raw. There will also be the time when Cohen and Blazyer will also play significant minutes, but not right now as there is just no time for experimentation and Sfairopoulos can’t treat any Euroleague game as a preseason matchup.

The coach has to go with the best of his best and find a way to win the game if it’s with 8 players, 9 players or 10 players and if Israelis don’t take part, then no worries they certainly will in the Israeli League. Will Sorkin and Ziv eventually be solid Euroleague players, I certainly feel that they will be. Will it take time? That’s for sure.

Iftach Ziv – Photo Credit:

With the win, the heat was turned down a notch or two on Sfairopoulos and the bench boss now has some breathing room along with a week before the next Euroleague game at home against a weak Panathinaikos team. After that Maccabi will have another double week but this time at home with Zalgiris and Barcelona coming to town.

What we have learned is that there are no easy games in Europe for Maccabi and the players have to be focussed and concentrated as Sfairopoulos said for each and every game of the 30 that remain between now and April and hopefully in May. Should they now be then this season will be yet another campaign with Maccabi remaining on the outside and looking in to the playoffs instead of being an active participant for the first time since 2015.

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