1) To think that Maccabi Tel Aviv were trying to find a team for Angelo Caloiaro before the season began and then he sat and waited and waited in the stands until the Yellow & Blue needed his services due to injuries is almost unfathomable. Caloiaro who was a consistently consistent player for Coach Sfairopoulos last season saw that his time was going to be radically reduced with the Omri Casspi signing and the team didn’t want to hold him back from playing time, “We decided that it would be better for him to leave Maccabi, but the turning point for him was the injury to Omri,” Sfairopoulos said.
That certainly was the turning point because since the club registered him for the Euroleague he has been nothing less than exceptional each and every continental contest. “Angelo was unbelievable,” explained Nate Wolters in the lockerroom after the game. “He hasn’t played a ton this year but every time his number is called he brings the energy. He was able to hit two big 3-pointers and he did a good job on Mirotic too. In the 4th quarter he made a big impact.” That big impact also included a huge bucket by Caloiaro with the score 71-68 with 6:30 to go in regulation following a 9-0 Barcelona run.
Scottie Wilbekin, who played with Caloiaro last season understands the value a veteran player like the San Francisco product is to a team like Maccabi especially in crunch time, “I don’t know what we’d be doing right now without Angelo. He’s a big part of our team and tonight he was probably the most important player on our team.”
Not many players enjoy going into the trenches to do the rough and tumble work with very little credit because it doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but that doesn’t seem to concern Caloiaro, “He’s always very positive. He’s a fighter and ready to do the dirty job on the court,” said Sfairoopoulos.
The modest Caloiaro was very short on words following the game giving the credit for his and his team’s performance to the Maccabi faithful, “I am having fun. It is amazing, these fans are unbelievable. They support us every game, they always show up and it is a lot of fun to play in front of them. It shows: we play a lot better in front of them.”
In 9 Euroleague appearances this season, Caloiaro is averaging 6 points and 3.7 rebounds in close to 20 minutes a game. Against Barcelona he scored 12 points, going 2/3 from beyond the arc in 26+ minutes. Who would have ever thought that would be the case back in September? “He made some hustle plays. Hitting 3-pointers and floaters. He is a great guy to play with,” said an inspired Wilbekin.
“He is a f—ing man,” said NBA Draft Lottery prospect Deni Avdija. “He knows when to show up. I can trust him. You see when I got the ball and I saw him in the corner I trust him. It’s like family over here and I’m happy for him.”
2) “It’s like a family over here,” said Avdija. There are perhaps no truer words than those about this Maccabi team. They are a family. It doesn’t matter who comes in or who goes out, but the Yellow & Blue is one big happy unit reminding me of the 1979 “We are Family” World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates. The person responsible for that is the coach, the maestro, the leader of the pack, Ioannis Sfairopoulos. The team takes its lead from him and away they go. The players have complete faith and ultimate trust in the coach and that is why they are able to be a family. Sfairopoulos let us in on his secret, “I count on all of the players and believe in all the players. This is the meaning of a team and a family. Quincy Acy played only five minutes but he’s happy because Angelo Caloiaro played well. The opposite would be true when Acy plays more minutes. The most important thing is to win games and that’s what happens when you are happy and successful.”
3) Scottie Wilbekin was phenomenal in the first half, especially in the second quarter when Maccabi muscled out to a 48-41 lead after twenty minutes as the guard scored the final seven points of the frame to break the deadlock. Whether it’s driving to the basket, hitting a runner or drilling home a triple, Wilbekin has been lethal all season long for the Yellow & Blue. “I’m happy with the win,” the guard explained. “We could have played better. Defensively the 1st quarter isn’t how we wanted, but it happens sometimes. In the next 3 quarters we did for the most part what we wanted to do in the scouting and game plan. We just find a way to win and we find a way to do so every time so far in the Euroleague and that is the bottom line.”
Last time the two sides met in Barcelona, Wilbekin wasn’t playing at 100% due to an injury that he picked up two days earlier in Milan. There had been a lot of questions as to if he would play or not and was a game time decision and although he featured for Maccabi one could see that he was just not himself. However, this time around it was a different story. Was the last clash sitting on his head a bit? “Maybe a little I think we wanted to beat them because of the way we fell apart in Barcelona. So that added a little bit meaning to us but at the end of the day it’s just another game and we have another one on Thursday.”
“Aaron played his best game today and he will just get better from here,” Coach Sfairopoulos said. Aaron Jackson played his third game for Maccabi and is beginning to look like the player that the Yellow & Blue were hoping to see. Obviously it was going to take time for Jackson to brush off the dust after having not played for a bit of time, but we started to see flashes, especially when he scored a crucial driving layup to give Maccabi a 77-68 lead with under five minutes remaining in the final frame. “He showed during the crucial moments that he was very important with his experience. He controlled the team and we expect that he will play much better going forward and he does as well.” Talking about experience, there is no substitution for a player who has won a Euroleague title and Maccabi now has two in Jackson and Othello Hunter.
A) When both Nate Wolters and John Dibartolomeo went down, the only two guards Maccabi had were Tyler Dorsey and Scottie Wilbekin which forced Coach Sfairopoulos to figure out how best to play the duo, together or separately. At the beginning, it was clear the Wilbekin needed a second guard next to him in order to free him up for his shot, plus they just played extremely well together. However, now with the return of Wolters and with the addition of Aaron Jackson, Sfairopoulos has a number of options at his disposal and with that being the case he didn’t exclusively use the two at the same time. For example in the second quarter the two were on the court for Wilbekin’s triple to close out the half but not for when he scored his other 4 points, 2 via free throws. They were also together when Wilbekin hit the 3-pointer to put Maccabi ahead by 6 points, 88-82 with 33 seconds remaining in the game. There is definitely chemistry between the two, but the coach has options at his fingertips, “It’s not so important if they play together, but most importantly I want them to play well. We had two guards on the floor and in some cases three guards and that’s very important. If one of them plays with Wolters or Jackson that’s also good because as long as we have two guards, they can both be offensive threats.”
B) Veteran journalist Eli Shvidler spoke about Barcelona being unable to hold up against an aggressive opponent at the pregame press conference. Following two losses in a row in the Euroleague at Baskonia and at home against EFES, Barca also fell in ACB play to Bilbao Basket creating a mini crisis around the all star studded team. Teams are beginning to understand that of you are aggressive with the likes of Brandon Davies, Malccolm Delaney, Ante Tomic and Nikola Mirotic, you may be able to find a way to win as each one of those four players picked up 4 fouls by the end of the game against Maccabi. Coach Sfairopoulos and his staff did their homework well ahead of the game and it showed after a 40-minute clash of high intensity basketball. In addition to the defensive side of the game, it should be noted that Maccabi grabbed 10 offensive boards and gave up only five. “As everybody saw, it was a high-intensity game from the beginning until the end,” Said Coach Svetislav Pesic. “The PIR for both teams was 96. I think we played a good game against a good team in a good moment, with a lot of confidence. We had 17 turnovers and that was our big problem. One reason, like always, was the opponent’s defense, but there were other reasons: Sometimes we are too excited and want to take decisions without control instead of building our offense and waiting for a better chance.” The question now is will Maccabi will able to also return the favor to Milano after their high intensity loss in Italy back in November?
They Said It…
Nate Wolters – “Everyone contributed so it’s a big win.”
Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos – “Maccabi is a big club any way no matter what the results, historically it’s one of the top clubs in Europe. We are a very good team when we fight all together. If we think that we are more than we are, then we will have trouble. It’s a long way until the end. We still have even more potential to play better.
Deni Avdija who finished with a team high +19 and a pair of assists – “It feels amazing. I think Barcelona is the best team in the Euroleague. We knew how to play against them and give them a fight. It was super fun and super intense. I think we prepared well for them and we couldn’t have done this without the crowd.”