Upsetting the apple cart – Maccabi learns a hard lesson against Red Star as Wolters stars in win

Oct 8, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

It always seems to happen to Maccabi Tel Aviv. They love welcoming back their former players and then give them a stage to put on a show and that’s exactly what Nate Wolters did, he put on a performance, punishing his ex to the tune of 17 points going 3/4 from beyond the arc. But it wasn’t just the points. It was how he controlled the flow of the offense and just found the open man time and time again.

Wolters carved Maccabi up quarter by quarter and made sure to show the Yellow & Blue what they missed. And boy could have they used Wolters as nothing seemed to work. Scottie Wilbekin, John DiBartolomeo, Keenan Evans, Iftach Ziv all went down for the count only distributing 11 assists while committing 14 team turnovers while at the other end Red Star did as they pleased.

Nate Wolters receiving flowers – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Once were on the stats, the visitors out-rebounded the hosts 34-30, dished out 17 assists to Maccabi’s 11 while Red Star stole the ball 11 times to the Yellow & Blue’s 5.

And to add a bit more salt to the wounds how about their shooting percentages?

Maccabi went 11/30 for 36% from 2 and 8/24 (33%) from 3 as the Serbian club scored 21/36 (58%) from 2 and 7/20 from downtown. OY VEY! You’re not going to win with this numbers, no way and no how.

In reality, the numbers were much worse after three periods as Maccabi padded the stat sheet in garbage time over the final two minutes to “only” lose by a dozen points at home. Ugh.

Red Star did as they pleased plain and simple and Maccabi fell right into their trap, hook line and sinker.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Sfairopoulos didn’t mince any words following the defeat, “We played their rhythm even though we discussed it and analyzed it and said we didn’t want that to happen. I think after they got a double-digit lead we got frustrated and nervous. And that caused some of the bad decisions offensively and defensively. We showed during the game a lot of miscommunication on defense, a lot of bad position and spacing on offense.”

Angelo Caloiaro reiterated how the team’s offense and defense struggled mighty and how the two are intertwined in the loss, “Offensively we struggled, especially in the first quarter. We already had 8 turnovers. I think we let our offensive struggles and the way the game was slowed down the game tempo get into our defense. And our defense wasn’t great either.”

Maccabi had a week to put together a plan as to how they were going to beat Red Star. They were well aware as to how their opponents were going to play, the style of their game and put together a scheme to make sure that Dejan Radonjic’s squad didn’t take control of the pace of play.

“We are not in our best shape because the corona effects are still inside the team. Don’t write it as an excuse but a reality. We are working really hard, we are not ready to play games. Now we have four games in a row and the most important thing is how to play together.”

It seems that they just weren’t able to put pen to paper and find a way to ensure that the work that they had put in would pay off. However, that wasn’t the case whatsoever.

“The worst thing was that because we didn’t play well on offense we have to play well on defense and that didn’t happen,” Sfairopoulos said. “They scored so many baskets because of our lack of concentration on defense. We have to not allow easy baskets and not turnover the ball.”

Dejan Radonjic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

On the other side of the court, Radonjic’s comments were almost the exact office of the Maccabi bench boss as he praised his team, “My players were very good and played a very good game and we had so many problems in our first game but we played good today defensively and offensively. We had to play well at Maccabi and in front of their fans.”

It was clear that Radonjic didn’t want Scottie Wilbekin to beat him just as he did last week when the Maccabi guard scored 28 points and was the dominant figure leading his team over Bayern Munich. “I talked before the game about Wilbekin and that we had to be ready to control him. But it’s not only him, they have several really good players and it was important to control other players as well as him.”

But let’s turn back to Wolters who like others before him, Jalen Reynolds, Deshaun Thomas, Keith Langford and many others had done in the past; slice and dice up their former club Maccabi Tel Aviv when coming back to play in Israel. The big stage always seems to bring the best out of these players and the flowers that are presented to them before the game always seems to light up that fire to set them off on career games.

Nate Wolters – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“This was his best game at Red Star,” Radonjic explained when asked about Wolters and what he brings to the table for his club. “Not just this season but overall. In the beginning he came late to preseason and was injured. But the last ten days he’s been good and getting better game by game. Every game in Euroleague we have huge motivation and he had huge motivation especially to play well tonight and I expect him to do this the rest of the season.”

Angelo Caloiaro who played with Wolters on Maccabi a couple of years back also spoke about how he put the pedal to the metal and dominated his former teammate, “We know he’s a heck of a player and it’s fun to play against old teammates and friends. He had a good game and hit those 3-pointers close together and he got going tonight. He was really good tonight.”

Wolters himself didn’t focus on coming back to haunt his former team, but on his current team and what this victory meant for them, “We just needed a road win early in the year. It’s always good to win on the road. We have a lot of guys out right now. It’s been a tough situation early in the year, but we played really well tonight and played good defense and didn’t let them get in a rhythm all night.”

This wasn’t a pleasant game for anyone involved with Maccabi, from the coach who just seemed to not have his players ready to go with a proper game-plan to take Red Star off kilter with their play. Throughout the game they always seemed to be trying to dig out of a hole that was built up in the opening minutes when Radonjic’s squad went up 8-0 .

Nikola Kalanic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We had some moments where we could score and maybe change the momentum of the game.,” Sfairopoulos said. “That didn’t happen, the Maccabi coach stated. “We tried until the end to fight – as you can see from us scoring 26 points in the last period. But it was too difficult to come back. It’s a bad game, a bad loss. Unfortunately, it happened in front of our fans.”

Ah yes, the fans.

The fans who are so crucial to Maccabi’s success couldn’t help the team out of on the court, but they did their best off of it and one player who was impressed was the Yellow & Blue’s new recruit Mathias Lessort who scored 12 of his 16 points in the last frame of play.

“You think about the fans and it’s (Maccabi) is a great organization, 6x said Euroleague champ you can feel the embrace of the fans and we felt it tonight. It was sold out and the atmosphere was amazing. You play for the fans and have to respect the 11,000 that came to see you play and you have to fight for those people. When they pay for ticket you have to think about that. We have to give everything we have. They kept cheering us when we were down by 20. We will bounce back and make the fans proud.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Maccabi has a big week coming up with an Israeli league game at home on Saturday night against Hapoel Haifa and then a Euroleague road trip to a very strong Milano team followed by a tricky contest at ASVEL.

What the fans will want most are W’s. Wins, plain and simile. Nothing more and nothing less. The supporters want to see success and they are well aware the team hasn’t made it to the playoffs since 2015 which is something they would like to see in the rearview mirror and rectify as soon as possible.

The heat is going to be on Sfairopoulos and Maccabi now and they’ll need to get at least a split of the two continental clashes in order to stay at .500 and that won’t be very easy. Oded Katash is on the unemployment line and could easily slot in should the club want to make a change. Now let’s not put the cart ahead of the horse. It’s one loss, one defeat, that’s it. But boy was it an ugly, ugly, brutal loss. Should Maccabi return home with a 1-3 record going into the Panathanaikos game, there will be a ton of unsatisfied customers.

And those are the type of customers that you don’t want to got to war with.

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