“I was trying to go one on one, maybe I could have gotten a better shot. Airball.”
That’s how Scottie Wilbekin broke down his final play of the fourth quarter. A play that could have given Maccabi Tel Aviv a well deserved and hard earned win, but instead the game went into overtime and we all know what the result was; another close loss as Maccabi fell to Milano 86-85.
When defeats keep piling up one on top of the next and in the Yellow & Blue’s case now three in a row in Euroleague play and 8 overall this season, it’s very, very hard to break out of the funk. When things go south, they go south as Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos is still trying to figure out how his team can make a complete 180 and get their season on track because soon it will be too late to do so as we hit the one third mark of the campaign.
“We had the option to win the game but sometimes you need luck,” he said.
However, when it comes to luck, Sfairpoulos needs to begin referring to the following saying,“You’ve got to be good to be lucky and lucky to be good” which perfectly describes Maccabi’s situation. They’re just not good enough to be lucky.
There are some things that are in Maccabi’s control and some that are not. Making sure to play tough defense, is in their hands. Playing with high energy and intensity, is also in their hands. Malcolm Delaney hitting the game winner with Wilbekin’s hand in his face, well that’s not really in Maccabi’s control. Great shooters will make tough shots and that’s what Delaney did on a team with a number of options to take a big shot.
Wilbekin himself is player that prides himself on taking the tough shot, on taking what could be the winner shot and leading his team by taking the responsibility and the rock in his own hands. But this season it just isn’t working.
Why isn’t it working? Because teams know exactly who is going to get the ball and who is going to take the shot, especially when the rest of the Maccabi players spread the floor. The shot clock clicks down and everyone knows that Wilbekin is going to take a shot or drive in and put up a floater. We have seen the same movie over and over and over again as have all of the other teams.
Perhaps Coach Sfairopoulos has to change it up. Perhaps Maccabi can run a different play. Perhaps the rock can be placed in the hands of another player. But Wilbekin would have none of it when asked and answered with one word, “No.”
Wilbekin certainly wants the responsibility and in fact thrives on it, but it’s clear it just isn’t working and Maccabi needs to add something different to its arsenal should they want to win a close game.
Coach Sfairopoulos needs to place trust in some of his other players, but even he is still stuck with using one option and not being creative in working up something different, “Scottie is a player who can take responsibility to take the last shot and he wins games for us. He scored many important baskets. I can’t say that it was one moment to win the game, but it was one of the moments that we could have won the game.”
Yes, it’s true Scottie is one who wins games and has done so in the past, but Maccabi can’t dwell on the past and with 8 defeats this young season, the club has to begin to look forward. “We are all together and we will keep fighting, we are Maccabi and we are fighters. This is a promise to all of our fans and we will turn it around.”
If the Yellow & Blue want to turn it around they’ve got to find another option other than Wilbekin. Don’t get me wrong, Wilbekin is an amazing player who scored in bundles and found his teammates as time wound down. When Wilbekin wasn’t on the court at the end of the second quarter, Milano went on a 19-1 run. He’s critical to the team.
But, Wilbekin is the only player who is consistently scoring in money time and when the team needs points. While that’s great, who is the second option, who is the third? It seems that Wilbekin is the first, second and third option.
Milano coach Ettore Messina knew very well who was the player he needed to stop in order to win the game but didn’t want to say it outright, “I think you have to respect they have other scorers on the team and you don’t know because he can shoot and make a play and make a pass to somebody else. Honestly, I am not so sure we fouled him (in overtime) but they got 2 free throws and I think it was a great play for them because they almost won the game.”
Of course almost isn’t good enough for Maccabi Tel Aviv at this point. They need good ole fashioned wins and if it means something new and something different, then so be it. The more players who can get involved when it comes down to the wire the better as confidence among the players will grow. But sometimes it just doesn’t work that way when your star wants the ball.
When Michael Jordan retired for the first time, Scottie Pippen finally had his chance to take over the spotlight for the Chicago Bulls. The big shots were now going to be his, all of them.
Except that Coach Phil Jackson had other ideas and decided to give the ball to Toni Kukoc for the last shot and beat the New York Knicks in the playoffs. Pippen, who didn’t like the play one bit decided to park himself on the bench for the final 1.8 seconds, Kukoc hit the winner and the rest is history.
Jackson was a great coach who always knew how to get the most out of his players while preaching that even the great Jordan needed to defer to his teammates and trust them, which he did on plenty of occasions even when the game was coming down to the wire.
Just ask Bill Wennington who took a beauty of pass from his “Airness” in his double-nickel game against the New York Knicks just days after coming out of retirement. Or ask John Paxson and Steve Kerr. They’ve all hit winners with Jordan on the court. If Jordan and Jackson could find other options so can Wilbekin and Sfairopoulos.
Jackson’s gospel paid off and helped him win 11 NBA Championships as a coach. He was successful not only because he had great players but because he was different and was constantly thinking outside of the box.
Maccabi needs to start thinking out side of that box as well because what has been done up until now just hasn’t worked. Sfairopoulos believes that the team still has a chance of making the playoffs and that the squad is together in battle, “We will fight until the end.” Wilbekin was even more succinct in his answer when asked about advancing to the postseason with a one word response, “yes.”
“We are Maccabi and we are fighters,” stated Sfairopoulos. “This is a promise to all of our fans and we will turn it around.”
However, in order to turn it around, the Yellow & Blue may need a Chanukah Miracle to find a way to dig out of a 3-8 hole. Time is ticking away and Maccabi has got to find solutions quickly beginning with Red Star’s visit next week or else their fate may be sealed even before we get to the new year.
Ante Zizic came out of the game in the first quarter with what looked to be a waist/hip injury. The big man returned but went 2/9 from the field and only grabbed 4 boards.
Angelo Caloiaro scored only 2 points in 32 minutes of play. Maccabi needs more production out of the forward, 2 points just isn’t good enough.
John DiBartolomeo looked good with 8 points in 11+ minutes. But for a player who was making his Euroleague debut after being out injured for a year, perhaps he played a bit too much in crunch time. He committed the foul on Kevin Punter’s 3-pointer that tied up the game in regulation but John D also hit a huge triple in the overtime period.
Tyler Dorsey is still struggling with only 4 points in 20 minutes while also fouling out.
Elijah Bryant looked confident with 17 points in 37 minutes includig going 4/4 from deep.
Othello Hunter had some huge baskets and scored 14 points on the night.
Dragan Bender put in a workman like performance with 8 points and 8 rebounds.
Milano got terrific games from Malcolm Delaney, Sergio Rodriguez, Kevin Punter, Kyle Hines and Shavon Shields.