“This was the biggest statement this year” Scottie Wilbekin on Maccabi Tel Aviv’s win over EFES! “There isn’t a better feeling than making the stop” Deni Avdija on halting Shane Larkin at the buzzer! Analysis, quotes, notes & more!

1) How many times can we say, how about Scottie Wilbekin? Once again, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s star guard came up big in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 77-75 win over Anadolu EFES when the team needed him most as the Florida product scored 21 points and took the upper hand from his matchup against Shane Larkin. “Scottie proved one more time that at a top level playoff like game you can see how he performed,” said Maccabi Tel Aviv Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos. Wilbekin himself looked back at the game and was asked if this was the biggest statement win of the campaign, “Probably this was the biggest statement this year. They have been setting historic records this year and they have clearly been the best team.” #1 also spoke about the team’s special characteristics, “It was fun and we didn’t give up. We let them get away from us a bit but like we always do we fought until the end. That what we have been doing all year and that is what we are going to continue to do.” Finally, was Wilbekin more motivated for the game because he was going head to head with Larkin? “Tonight we have eight games left and we wanted to win, that’s all the motivation I need.”

Dov Halickman Photography

2) Maccabi Tel Aviv clinched a Euroleague playoff spot for the first time in what seems to be years and years. In fact, the last time the Yellow & Blue made it to the postseason was in 2014/15. How important was it for the club to advance to the next round? This is what Wilbekin had to say, “It’s good to clinch a playoff spot especially with the past five years of the club. I’m sure everyone is happy and there is a sigh of relief that we made it back to the playoffs but for us as a team we still have more work to do. We aren’t satisfied with just making the playoffs we want home court for the playoffs.” The skies the limit for Maccabi and the only thing that can stop them is perhaps the Coronavirus explained Wilbekin, “We have a chance to go all the way as we qualified for the playoffs with 7 games to go. I think that anyone would think we have a chance.” Coach Sfairopoulos was thrilled to make it to the playoffs, “I am very happy that seven gamedays before the end of the regular season we have qualified mathematically. This is important for us, and we continue to dream and look higher. We are happy but we will not stop.” Now with the postseason secured the next goal is clinching home court advantage explained captain Jake Cohen, “It’s a very important goal for us and it’s good. Now we can set a new goal to get home court, we’re going to work towards that.”

Dov Halickman Photography

3) It’s clear that Maccabi has buttoned up on defense all season long because of that they have been able to use their tight D in order to help their offensive. Having Yovel Zoosman back for 21+ minutes is huge as he creates offense just off of deflections on the defensive end. With 11 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals, you couldn’t have asked for a better performance after just returning from injury. He is the instigator on D and drives the team. In fact Yakov Meir of Israel Hayom posted that Zoos will be invited to the Philadelphia 76ers Summer League team. Last season he participated in some practices with Philly and played for the Cleveland Cavaliers in Las Vegas. Scottie Wilbekin explained how important the team’s defense was to the win, “It’s our ability to make plays when we need them whether it’s on offense or defense. Down the stretch we seem to make enough plays to put ourselves in the situation to win the game.” Coach Sfairopoulos also talked about the defense, “This is Efes, they have the most offensive power. But at the end of the day, our defense was the key to the win because we only allowed them 75 points and only 33 in the second half.”

Dov Halickman Photography

There were plenty of other heroes for Maccabi including Othello Hunter who scored 15 points added 12 rebounds and finished the game with an efficiency rating of 26, “We had great team come into our house, and we just decided to play as hard as we can. We didn’t have all our fans, but the fans who were here, they brought it tonight. To be honest, both teams wanted it. We just kept fighting. It was up and down, but we just kept fighting.” Another hero was Angelo Caloiaro who drilled home a pair of key triples as the game wound down to tie up the game at 71-71. Scottie Wilbekin had this to say about Caloiaro, “Those were some big shots. Big, big shots. Those were big threes and we needed all of them.” Finally, how about Deni Avdija? The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery prospect struggled most of the night but in money time in the fourth quarter he nailed a pair of big shots, grabbed huge rebounds and dished out a critical assist. But most important of all it was Avdija’s isolation defense on the best in the business on the final play of the game to stymie Shane Larkin as he took a potential game winning 3-pointer. “I love challenges and it’s not the first time that this has happened as it did in the past against Kostas Sloukas and it didn’t end well. In money time I had the best player and there isn’t a better feeling than making the stop.”

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