As the Hamas attack on the Shabbat morning, Simchat Torah on October 7th was unfolding, no one on in their right mind was thinking about Maccabi Tel Aviv and how they had won their first Euroleague game of the season over Partizan Belgrade less than 36 hours earlier. Basketball was the furthest thing from anyone’s mind and rightfully so.
Fast forward to exactly two months later as the Holiday of Chanukah is now upon the nation of Israel, the Festival of Lights and of miracles sees the same Maccabi sitting pretty at 7-5 and in 6th place while they have the identical record of 4th place Monaco as well. If anyone would have pulled head coach Oded Katash aside and said, listen buddy, you’ll be a pair of games over .500 and in contention, he would have thought that the Great Gazoo from the Flintstones was whispering a lot of nonsense into his ear. But yet here they are against all odds.
Home games with no fans in Belgrade is far, far from ideal and it was not something that anybody in the organization has bargained for, but yet here they are after picking up a gutsy win in Lyon over ASVEL Villeurbanne.
It wasn’t a pretty game, far from it in fact. It was a stomach turning forty minutes of non-stop action with plenty of highs and lows throughout.
Villeurbanne has always been looked at as a team that is an automatic win by the Yellow & Blue and their fans, an easy 1-2-3 and you can put that W in the win column. However, that has all changed with the hiring of Italy’s National Team coach Gianmarco Pozzecco and suddenly ASVEL went from also-rans to entertaining and competitive almost overnight.
There is no question that any team that has the 51-year old Italian in charge is going to cause one to have fits and that’s what clearly happened to Maccabi Tel Aviv. After a close first quarter that saw the hosts in front, the yellow-and-blue went off on a 19-3 run which would have already been the nail I the coffin for the “old” Villeurbanne. But that is far from the case with Pozzecco’s version who then came back and outscored Maccabi 15-0 to wipe out the double digit lead in what felt like seconds and take a 46-45 lead into halftime.
From there it was back and forth over the final 20 minutes, but Maccabi’s stars did what they are supposed to do which is to make sure that the team wins those tight games and that is exactly what happened. Wade Baldwin slashed to the basket and came up with a critical block on star guard Nando De Colo while Lorenzo Brown scored 6 points with 4 free throws over the final 1:28 to take the win.
On paper, Maccabi has a better squad by far over ASVEL, but the games aren’t played on paper and with Pozzecco on the sidelines, anything is possible as Maccabi fans were on “shpilkes” over the course of the game until finally Katash’s crew put it away and the final buzzer sounded.
Katash said that they were a step slow especially on defense all game long which was accurate without a doubt and that is due to lack of playing on a consistent basis although that will change for some beginning next week when Maccabi or a portion of Maccabi heads to Herzliya for their Israeli league opener.
But before the visit to Bnei Herzliya, Maccabi will play Bologna on Friday night in Italy as Luca Banchi’s team sits in third place with an 8-4 record.
Bologna made a last second coaching change right before the season as Sergio Scariolo was jettisoned from his post and Banchi, who last coached in the Euroleague close to a decade ago with Milano as Maccabi fans will most certainly recall. However, despite having been in charge of many teams from Torino to Pesaro and AEK ATHENS over the past ten years, Banchi had a massively successful run as Latvia’s head coach in this summer’s FIBA World Cup where he took his team all the way to a heart breaking quarterfinal loss to eventual champions Germany.
From one Italian maestro in Pozzecco to another in Banchi, Maccabi will need to be very careful when they take to the floor in the unique Virtus Segafredo Arena as Bologna is receiving top level play from veterans Toko Shengelia and Marco Belinelli while Iffe Lundberg and Isaia Cordinier are coming into their own.
Should Maccabi play as they did in Lyon, they will not have the luxury of Villeurbanne’s limitations that Baldwin and Brown were able to take advantage of.
Is Bologna beatable? Most certainly, but Katash will need to be at the top of his own game with his decisions on the sidelines against a much more talented team than the one he just slipped by in France.
Would a 1-1 road double week be the end of the world? Absolutely not, as Maccabi will still be over .500 but the schedule in the Euroleague shows no mercy with games against Anadolu EFES, Baskonia, Red Star and Zalgiris before the end of 2023.
But that doesn’t mean that Maccabi can’t find a way to win a second game this week against Bologna and put themselves in an even better spot. While home games are still played in front of an empty Pionir Arena, the yellow-and-blue can’t take any games off.
They’ve proven that they can battle, they’ve proven that they can get down and dirty, they’ve proven that they can win and there is no reason to think that they can’t do that at Bologna, because winning is the name of the game.