Williams earns his Yellow & Blue stripes in Maccabi triumph as Barca is on deck

Oct 27, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Maccabi Tel Aviv took care of business on Tuesday night and picked up a very workman-like 76-62 victory over a hapless Zalgiris at Yad Eliyahu to move their Euroleague record to 4-2 while also winning their third game in a row.

It seems that whatever hiccups the Yellow & Blue had, whether it was a disappointing home loss to a weak Red Star Belgrade team or on the road in league play at Gan Ner against Hapoel Gilboa Galil are over.

The squad looks like they are humming along, save for a few poor minutes in the first quarter where they allowed Arturas Milaknis to hit a trio of triples until head coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos put a stop to it (a delayed stop I should say as Zalgiris went on a brutal 14-0/18-2 run to end the frame).

“We had a very good game except for the second half of the first quarter when we lost our concentration on defense” Sfairopoulos said. “After halftime, we had a double-digit difference. We moved the ball around with an extra pass to find the best option. We deserved 100% to win.”

On a night that Scottie Wilbekin was as cold as a Siberia December night going a dismal 1/9, others stepped up to fill that void. This allowed the Florida product to make an impact in other areas of the games where it was dishing out 6 assists, stealing the ball five times or playing suffocating defense to allow his teammates to shine.

One of those players was Derrick Williams who took the bull by the horns and just dominated the paint with his scoring prowess, pacing the Yellow & Blue. The former #2 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft was superb for Maccabi with 17 points on 4/8 from 2 and 2/2 from downtown. Throw in 7 rebounds to boot and you’ve got an MVP performance.

Derrick Williams – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Derrick is an athletic player who plays with high energy and his aggressiveness and toughness is obvious,” Sfairopoulos explained glowingly about his forward. “He is on the way up and he will have more good games and is continuing to learn the philosophy.”

Angelo Caloiaro who may not have scored in the game after two of his 3-point attempts rimmed in and out, but ended a team high +25 for the game in 22 minutes, was very straight forward and to the point when asked about Willaims.

Derrick Williams – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Derrick Williams is very good at basketball and he was in his hotel for two weeks with corona at the start of preseason. He came back and as the team is getting better, he is finding his way. You can throw him the ball and he can make a play. You need these guys and it’s better to play with him than against him.”

Williams himself spoke about what is keys to success were in this game which can be viewed by many as a coming out party for the ten year veteran, “Just being confident. We didn’t have any preseason games and you’re going to see times where we don’t play well and other times where we will play great. We have a lot of players who can play great.”

Derrick Williams: Photo Creit- Dov Halickman

As to how he views the way that he has been able to succeed over the past few years in Europe beginning with Bayern Munich with a stop at Fenerbahce and Valencia, Williams said it comes down to the basics, “A lot of hard work, making sure I follow through with my shots and be a veteran on the team. I like to bring energy and get the crowd involved. They pay a lot of money and we want to give them a show.”

Along with Williams, three other players scored in double digits on this night from James Nunnally who provides instant offense to Keenan Evans who is coming into his own. But perhaps most importantly was the contribution Ante Zizic was able to provide with 14 points and 9 rebounds as the Croatian big man made a mess in the paint and overpowered both former Israeli league center Josh Nebo and youngster Marek Blazevic.

And that is where Wilbekin came in as he dished off the ball to the big man, setting him up for a big energy dunk to get the fans out of their seats early on.

Is this a new Wilbekin, who is going to let his teammates pull their own weight on offense and take a step back?

Don’t bet on it.

Scottie Wilbekin – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“Playmaking doesn’t just mean scoring and Scottie made great passes to get us back in motion. He didn’t have a great offensive night, but it’s coming Thursday. He is one of the special players,” Williams said with a smile.

Caloairo also knows that despite not having a big scoring night the team is continuing to jell as a unit, “Everyone is playing to win and Scottie’s not upset that he had five points, he cares that we win. We need guys that all buy in and that’s the goal. It makes it a lot more fun to come to work and play with these guys.”

“I think that this was a game where we were having fun,” Williams commented.” We are like family and when we play like that then we can control the game.”

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

Barcelona is up next and boy will it be difficult to control the game against a perennial Final Four threat year in and year out. Not only will Maccabi need to try to control the game, it will be all hands on deck coming up on Thursday night as Sfairopoulos sent out an SOS and perhaps hinted that more players will be needed as he will look to expand the rotation.

“Every win is important and we fight for every win. I expect that more players will participate and help the team. I repeat the team needs everybody. I want to open up the rotation slowly so everybody will be ready to help in the right way.”

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