1) Scottie Wilbekin is a winner plain and simple. There’s no question as to why David Blatt loved coaching the guard when they collaborated together at Darussafaka and it’s exactly why Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos loves to have a player like Wilbekin on his team. But what we’ve seen in Wilbekin since Sfairopoulos came on board is the maturation of the player and of the person into a true leader on the court. He’s becoming that leader right before our very eyes but he’s also become a smarter player, a more humble player and with each game that goes by an even more experienced player. “He is more mature more ready to take responsibility and a leadership role,” explained Sfairopoulos about the difference that he sees in Wilbekin from last season to this. “He shows he has big personality to be the leader and to grow as a player even more and he deserves the credit.” The coach continued, “Even if he has a few bad moments during the game he will raise his game up and he’s our leader. I knew the quality that he had when I came to Maccabi. He’s a player that can score and also can find the best option, just like he did in Valencia when he found Tyler Dorsey, that makes him a big player when he also knows how to pass when he needs to.”
2) Humble is also a word that we can use to describe Wilbekin and that’s how he reacted to the question of hitting the winning shot as he looked at the things that both he and Maccabi could have done better, “I had too many turnovers. I have to be better and the team has to be better. There were stretches we played good but not great. We have 8 games now to figure it out and get to be playing our best basketball.” He also tried to push off the notion that he nailed the game winner (which he most certainly did), “It was not a game winner there were 10 seconds, and the team made a big stop at the end.” That’s all true but without his guile and without his brilliant shooting where he takes the shot without stuttering for a second, Maccabi would have never won the game. 17 points in the second half with 9 points down the stretch and in money time tells you what you need to know about Wilbekin; he’s a winner.
3) It’s true that Maccabi didn’t play anything close to their best game, but they knew how to pull the rabbit out of the hat when it counted most to find a way to pull off the one point win. In fact, they were down 66-60 with 2:08 left in the contest. Somehow they were able to pull off the win and score 11 points in just over two minutes. Who would have ever thunk that after Olympiacos had put down the hammer figuratively and literally. How did it happen? Simple. Maccabi has been able to win these types of games all year which shows what kind of character and how special a team this is that is evolving at Yad Eliyahu. “Definitely,” said Jake Cohen. “Another one of those days that we did not play our best, it’s really important. We just play with a lot of confidence. We play with that attribute.” Tyler Dorsey also chimes in, “We showed our character like last week on the road. We just figure out how to win close games.” Last but nothing least, Sfairopoulos spoke about how the team never, ever gives up even on an off night, “I want to congratulate our players for one more win. With the way that this win came, it was more important. I think it was important that we didn’t give up. We fought until the end. We believed that we could win. And this is the reason that we won. I congratulate the players because they fought until the end.”
Gotta give a ton of credit to Olympiacos and their head coach Georgios Bartzokas who did a masterful job of stymying Maccabi Tel Aviv throughout the 40 minutes. There were stretches in both the first half and second half that Olympiacos just outplayed, outfought and outthought Maccabi. Bartzokas deserves a ton of credit in being able to come into Yad Eliyahu with a rag tag team of players that included a couple in Shaquielle McKissic and Dwight Buycks plus others that had come back from injury and illness in Taylor Rochestie and Augustine Rubit. What Bartzokas did tonight was close to brilliant, but his team still came out on the wrong side of the ledger. Jake Cohen explained what he thought the visitors were able to do, “They played good in the second half and took us out of our zone.” Wilbekin also gave his opinion as to what Olympiacos was able to do, “They did a good job guarding the pick and rolls it was not what I was used to.”
Bartzokas himself spoke about the keys to the game and why his squad just fell short, “Of course, it was a very tense game. Very tight. Some decisions at the end of the game decided this one. So, unfortunately, all the decisions that we took, and of course that Maccabi took, at the end went against us. For 30 minutes, we had a solid defensive performance. And I believe that with the way we played on defense, we should have won this game. At the end of the game, in the last two or three minutes, we did whatever we could – I say that like a joke – to lose this game. Turnovers, missing free throws, fouls and giving free throws to Wilbekin. Everything, even the last turnover on our last offense. So, whenever you have the chance to win a game here in Tel Aviv, you need to take this opportunity. We are a young team, we are learning. We have problems with injured and sick players, others are out of shape. But with our defensive performance for the first 30 minutes, we should have won the game. Congratulations to Maccabi.”