For roughly three full quarters and 30 minutes of game time, Maccabi Tel Aviv looked very similar to the Maccabi Tel Aviv we all saw last week when they fell 67-61 to Hapoel Jerusalem in the Israel State Cup Final. Ironically, the score at the end of the third quarter was 67-61 which somehow was the wake-up call that Oded Katash’s team needed and needed desperately.
With a potential record of 12-13 staring the Yellow & Blue squarely in the eyes with ten minutes to go in what was for all intents and purposes a make it or break it game, Lorenzo Brown, Bonzie Colson and Wade Baldwin pulled it all together and raced off to a 29-15 final frame to take the win.
If Katash and Maccabi had any designs on advancing to the playoffs where only 8 of the 18 teams will have the privilege to play, they had to win this game by hook or by crook. Most probably a record of 7-3 over the last ten games should be enough for Maccabi to slip into the postseason but of course that is easier said than done.
“I’m happy with the result,” Katash began. Two different halves, even the first 27 minutes we weren’t aggressive enough. We didn’t use our fouls smart enough and we were not consistent. But I’m happy we were able to turn around the game and get the W. We can’t worry about missing shots, but we can control, fouls, boxing out and we have to step up on these things to win in the future.”
With six teams competing for the final three places, it’s a big hodge-podge so to speak as Maccabi will need to find a way to navigate themselves through these wavy water. A comeback win over Bayern Munich is a good start to ensure that the team remained over .500 and didn’t drop under sea level for the first time this year, but next week a trip to Monaco will not be picnic of a trip to the principality.
On the plus side of the ledger, Maccabi was able to pull it together and mount the late comeback to take the win plus the Yellow & Blue were able to see Brown and Baldwin once again look comfortable playing together as well as featuring solo throughout the game. But on the minus side, Bayern slaughtered Maccabi on the boards to the tune of 45-33 and 19 to 8 on the offensive glass with Katash’s team only winning the battle of the boards in the fourth and final quarter.
“Our smallest lineup was when we didn’t give up offensive rebounds,” Katash commented. “Some were long ones and you need some luck with those, but of the 19 we could have gotten 6-7 which could have cost us the game. To win a game with these stats, we had to do something special and we were able to.”
Big man Roman Sorkin finished the game with 8 points but only 2 rebounds in 15+ minutes also spoke about the situation on the glass, “We didn’t box out. Some were far range rebounds. I think in the second half we got back to ourselves and we need every game now for the playoffs. We will show better form moving forward.”
The other issue for Maccabi was the lack of defense throughout the majority of the game as Bayern had free 3-pointer after free 3-pointer taking a total of 34 shots from long distance and hitting 12 of them while the Yellow & Blue just couldn’t catch up to their shooters who had shot after shot after shot from almost anywhere on the court with no defender within shouting distance.
The person who was doing most of the shouting was Oded Katash on the bench as he was as active as we’ve seen him this season, knowing that this was a must win, do or die game. Lose and basically fold up the shop and prepare for next year which would have been the last thing that the Maccabi hierarchy would want to have to do.
To some extent Maccabi received a gift from heaven just ahead of tip-off when Vladimir Lucic was ruled out due to injury which left one of the great all-time nemeses of the Yellow & Blue on the sidelines. While Andreas Obst tried to play Lucic from beyond the arc, it wasn’t enough for Trinchieri’s crew.
“We were excellent for 32 minutes,” Trinchieri began. “The last quarter we lost 29-15 which cost us the game but we moved the ball well and played as a team. I believe that some big plays from Brown and Colson really cost us the game. But without two key players Lucic and Rubbit, we did our best but still upset. The fouls were gifts near the end of the game and they didn’t seem like they should have been free throws and that gave them a big push, we fought and battled, 19 offensive rebounds but it wasn’t enough.”
With both Brown and Baldwin back on the court together, Maccabi will still be looking to find a way to play to their maximum with the duo on and off of the court together. While Katash would have liked to have had his backcourt in prime position chasing into the final stretch of the season, injuries are also a part of the game and have to be taken into account.
“We paid a price as the team as we wasn’t used to playing with two ball handling guards,” Katash explained. “We made the run with one of them and I was happy as to how Wade played at the end of the game. We need everyone in order to win the games coming up.”
“When me or Zo are out it affects the team because it’s like a rollercoaster and players have a bit of different roles if that happens,” Baldwin who almost checked in with a triple-double with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 8 points explained. “The tempo of the game changes. We have a healthy team now and we need to get back to how we were at the start of the season.”
Brown who scored a game high 27 points to go along with 6 assists and picked up the MVP award also spoke about getting back into the swing of things, “I am honestly not 100%, but it’s part of the game. I’m happy to assist this team any way I can on the bench and on the court. The physio team is doing great work with me, and this is going to be a day by day progress.
“I mean it had kind of been like a see saw kind of thing, I was out and Wade was out and it was back and forth. It’s a blessing to have a guy like that on this team, there is nobody like him in this league.”
To some extent it’s back to square one and it’s a good thing Maccabi now has a full week to reorganize, recuperate and get ready for their trip to Monaco where they will have a chance to go 2 games over the .500 mark. However, that won’t be an easy task without a doubt in a small awkward arena where there won’t be 10,000 fans breaking down your neck but on a few thousand.
That extra energy that the fans at Yad Eliyahu provide is a critical component to the success of the team this season as it always is and will obviously be crucial for the final 5 home games of the campaign which will see the likes of Bologna, Milano, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce and Baskonia. Not easy, but also not impossible to take 5 out of 5.
Trinchieri, who has spoken about the ghosts of Yad Eliyahu in the past knows exactly what type of influence the home crowd can have on a game, “Maccabi have won many games at home but despite this we played a great game. Those 6 free throws, it’s never easy to play here, 10,000 fans and they had a push.”
“We have the best fans in the Euroleague,” Colson who scored 15 points and grabbed 8 rebounds commented. “They provide us energy and we feed off of it. I love the fans and we need them to come every game. I try to provide energy the best I can on both sides of the floor and get the crowd involved. I always feed off the crowd.”
Should Maccabi win one more on the road or even two with trips to EFES, Villeurbanne and Zalgiris along with a next week’s stop at Monaco, they will be in fine position to find their way to the promised land.
But of course, that is always easier said than done.
“We all understand the importance but sometimes we are naive or there is a lack of experience.,” Katash said. “For some players it’s the first time in the Euroleague, but it’s knowing what to do. We have to react to this as soon as possible if we want to find ourselves in the playoffs.”
Baldwin also spoke about what the club’s mission is, “Our goals are to be the top 8 in the Euroleague. We want to win the Israeli championship here in June so we are sort of on track but the cup loss was a gut punch and everyone felt affected by it.”
“It was an important game and we need every game to get to the playoffs,” Brown explained. “We come to these final games to push ourselves. Right now the only thing on my mind is to win the championship and advance to the playoffs.”