We need to stay in the game and play together through the noise: Maccabi licks its wounds as they ready for game 5

May 3, 2024 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv had a terrific chance to advance to the Euroleague Final Four for the first time in a decade but just came up short to Panathinaikos 95-88 in what was a back and forth game 4 that the yellow-and-blue let slip through their fingers over the closing minutes of the contest.

Oded Katash’s crew was oh so close to punching their ticket to the promised land as they were just leading by 7 points midway through the final frame and a Final Four berth on the tips of their tongues. But great players make great plays and come up huge when the chips are all in and that’s exactly what Kendrick Nunn and Kostas Skoukas did for Ergin Ataman’s squad.

Nunn and Sloukas along with Mathias Lessort were so crucial down the stretch as they didn’t allow the pressure to faze them in any way shape or form as time wound down. Only the best of the best know how to manage this sort of intensity, but the likes of Sloukas, who has seen a thing our two in basketball while collecting three Euroleague championships rise to the occasion when called upon.

Lorenzo Brown – Photo credit: Djordje Kostic

Lorenzo Brown was completely aware as to how Panahinaikos were able to make their lives miserable in what was a must win for them, “They were playing great basketball, Nunn came out scorching and we had to put a stop to him and he was pretty much their main guy in the series so shutting him off and Sloukas as well and containing Lessort down in the paint, that’s going to be our task for game 5.”

“We threw a blow, they threw a blow and that is how the game went all night,” Nunn said following the game. “It was a tough match, but we came out victorious. We had some big stops late in the game that got us the victory.”

“Kendrick scored some incredibly difficult shots. He is the best scorer right now in the EuroLeague, and he showed that tonight,” Sloukas added.

Kostas Sloukas – Photo credit: Euroleague

Following a zero point performance on just 3 shots, Sloukas scored right out of the gate when he snagged the ball off the tipoff and easily laid it into the basket for a quick layup and two points to the good. The Greek guard, who crossed the town from Piraeus to OAKA this past offseason knew exactly the toll it would take on his to make sure a move, but he decided to do what was best for him and not the fans as he holds no allegiances.

But one way or another, Sloukas along with Kendrick Nunn who was extremely serviceable in the NBA helping the Miami Heat make their way to the 2020 NBA “Bubble” Championship against the Los Angeles Lakers, will no doubt come out ready to go back in Athens as they now move to just one game from the Final Four.

“It was a hell of an effort from our team, fighting like that with our backs against the wall. We have one more game, Game 5 back in OAKA,” Nunn added. “It’s not going to be easy. Maccabi is a hell of a team. They play well together, and we have to play together as well. One more game to go to the Final Four. We just have to stay together.”

Kendrick Nunn – Photo credit: Panathinaikos

Maccabi, devastated by the result as Katash knows full well that winning a decisive backs against the wall, do or die game 5 in OAKA will be very, very, very challenging especially with history totally against them as a road team looking to close out a series. There has never been one that has. The yellow-and-blue know that their chances are slim at best to make it to the Final Four and that’s the reason Katash said ahead of game four that that game was do or die in his eyes. The thought of having to win on the road and in front of over 20,000 crazy fans will not be easy, it will be more than challenging so to speak.

“We tried lots of lineups and also in the 4th quarter there were players that were very tired and I had to make substitutes,” Katash said. “Like I said at the end of the day when you get to these moments they scored from plays that were stuck and we ended up getting a 3 pointer. We missed a layup and right after that Sloukas drew the foul and he went to the line and scored. We missed a couple of open looks. We put a lot of effort to get to a 7-point lead. We need to heal on both a personal level and as a team, and of course Wade’s injury is tough for him and we know how much he wants it. How much effort he made to play. I’m proud of how we played even though we lost. We played to win and we were close but at the end they made big plays and scored big shots and it is what it is.”

While Katash had Wade Baldwin back from his hamstring injury which allowed the guard to start and even dunk, unfortunately didn’t hold up the next time he subbed into the game and came up limping once again ending his night after having played only 7+ minutes or so. The loss of Baldwin obviously hit the Maccabi players hard as he is one of their teammates and also a massively important cog to Katash’s team. From the highs of the highs, the air seemed to come out of Maccabi’s balloon when Baldwin headed off the court in tears, but that still didn’t stop the yellow-and-blue from trying to find a way to win the game.

Bonzie Colson – Photo credit: Djordje Kostic

“Obviously it’s very tough to see one of your brothers go down like that,” Colson said following the game. “You got to give a lot of credit to Panathinaikos they played really well from the start. We had a chance to win the game and we didn’t pull away which is tough. We wanted to finish the series here in front of our fans, but it’s part of the game. It isn’t easy for us it’s never been easy for us so, we got to go back to look at film and what we can do better just like we’ve been doing and get the win in game 5.”

“Tough feeling because I’m sure as much as the coaching staff wants this so do the players even more,” Katash said. “We were there up until 5 minutes to the end. We had a good chance, we were up 7 and we had our run but a few things that were not ordinary happened. They hit big shots off of loose ball situations and we missed some layups and open shots. We can’t blame anybody for that. I mean some players were really tired. We are missing Wade.”

The bench boss continued, “To play that intensity like in a double week basically playoff games is not easy. We put a lot of effort. I feel like overall I am really proud of the players, we came with the right attitude we were there, its not an easy game to play. We showed character and we have to be proud of ourselves we have to keep our heads up and to go there and to try to do something special.”

Oded Katash – Andreas Papakonstantinou / Tourette Photography

Maccabi went into the fourth quarter in the hole by 5-points but quickly found a way to flip that and take a 6-point lead with about five minutes left in the contest. PAO who were also playing on fumes in the closing minutes saw their stars step up big time to flip the score and grab the lead to take home the win.

“It’s just another bump in the road,” Brown said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking but you know, we still have life, were still fighting, we’ve been through crazy things this year and it’s just another opportunity for us to be better.”

Panathinaikos was happy to stay alive and now they will head home and have the comforts of OAKA and its fans who will look to will them to victory. Many will say it’s mission impossible for Maccabi, while many others will say otherwise. But one thing is for sure, Ataman’s crew won’t be doing any celebrating just yet.

Ergin Ataman – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“The celebration is only if we reach the final four,” Ataman commented. “Honestly, it doesn’t add pressure (the game 5 home team record) and this situation will put more pressure on Maccabi to play in OAKA. But it’s a basketball game so we must be ready to play good basketball.”

This will be the second year in a row that Maccabi has made an impact in the Euroleague playoffs and will now play a game 5. Last season they came up just short in Monaco and now with the same situation presenting itself again, everyone will need to make sure that the lessons that they were taught in the Principality will be implemented in the decisive game this time around.

“The key will be being us,” Brown said. ”I think personally we kind of got out of our bodies and we weren’t Maccabi that we normally were throughout this whole year. We kind of took a few steps back and it kind of got to us. We had to pick ourselves up because in the second half it came down to 50/50 balls, rebounds and a couple of bad shots. That hurt us pretty much.”

Lorenzo Brown – Andreas Papakonstantinou / Tourette Photography

“It’s not going to be easy for either team,” Katash exclaimed. “We see what’s happening in the playoffs. Quality teams. It won’t be easy and we know what the atmosphere will be like. We were there. Especially in a deciding game 5. We have to be very exact and precise to give us the chance to be in the Final Four. We need to stay in the game and play together through the noise.”

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