It always seems that when Scottie Wilbekin laces them ups against Hapoel Jerusalem he goes off and goes off in a big way. Monday night at the PAIS Arena was once again no exception with Maccabi Tel Aviv downing the capital city squad 100-76. Wilbekin, the star and leader of the Yellow & Blue went off for 24 points (6/10 from 3) and five assists which was exactly his average over the past 5 games against the Reds. When Scottie sees red like a bull he makes anyone in his way pay.
However, what makes his performance even more exceptional is that he was literally a game-time decision as he had woken up in the morning with neck spasms and needed an injection right before the game in order for him to go and go he did.
Maccabi coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos is well aware of how critical Wilbekin is to his team’s success and singled him out as they now head into the stretch run of the second round of games. Maccabi will go as far as Scottie will take them.
Oz Blayzer another player whom the coach heaped compliments on knows what influence Wilbekin can have on the club, “He’s our leader and it’s not just the points it’s everything else that he does on the floor that is critical for us.”
“I had open shots and I got some great passes and looks and the ball went in,” Wilbekin explained. “Jerusalem is one of the best teams in the Israeli league and maybe that’s the reason.”
It seemed that Maccabi was back to its normal self after the club finished off a disappointing Euroleague campaign this past Friday with a blowout loss at Zenit St. Petersburg. They played with swagger, guile but most importantly they looked like they were having fun. That may be the message that the bench boss is sending to his team after a long, long couple of seasons due to the late end of the 19/20 year and the short preparation period for the 20/21. Have fun, play for your teammates and just go for it and end on a high note. There is also a lot of motivation with two titles left to take.
“It was important to come back to the Israeli league with the right mentality and we were ready to play the game, not just for winning but how the win came about,” Sfairopoulos said. “We brought the game to our standards, we had good ball movement and our offense was very balanced, inside, outside and offensive rebounds.”
“We’re focussed on these games now and we’ve gone through a long season but we want to come in ready to go,” Wilbekin stated.
For Maccabi to succeed, it’s not just Wilbekin and the scorers who need to take a big role but also the players whose stats may not tell the entree story of the influence they may have on the court. Two examples that Sfairopoulos pointed out was the aforementioned Blayzer who scored 7 points and grabbed 8 boards in 24 minutes but also TJ Cline who played 27 points and only scored a lone point from the charity stripe while adding 5 rebounds and 3 assists.
“TJ Cline and Oz Blayzer fight to get rebounds and it’s how they fight for the team. When one has a lot of points everyone notices, but it’s also how much they contribute and that’s the meaning of a team.”
While not having made a big impact since arriving at Maccabi in February, the club has always said that they are looking for Cline to be an important factor down the stretch in the Israeli league and provide more depth.
However, one can notice that Cline is giving the Yellow & Blue more than just that. It’s his smile, enthusiasm, always the first guy off the bench to congratulate a teammate and just an all around good guy and that is worth its weight in gold for Sfairopoulos.
“I knew that TJ was a fighter and he brings extra energy to us and that is what he is doing. He knows the league, is always motivated and does the small things that are very important for us and not just scoring. He was very valuable for us for all of the other things on the court just Iike Oz.”
“You know for me,” Blayzer said “Winning is above all. I will always do the dirty work and that’s the most important thing for me. I came here to win and win titles. The points are just extra. I’m not looking further than this season right now and I’m very happy to be here. I hope that we can keep winning.”