Olympiacos stunned Maccabi Tel Aviv 85-82 on a last second triple by Aaron Harrison to send the Yellow & Blue to their third loss in a row as their Euroleague record dropped to 1-3 on the season. Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad came into the clash in Greece after having lost to Bayern Munich by the same score earlier in the week at Yad Eliyahu and looked to get back onto the winning track, however, Georgios Bartzokas and his team had other plans.
Maccabi grabbed an early 22-15 lead after ten minutes thanks to fine play Oz Blayzer and Tyler Dorsey but Piraeus veterans Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis worked their magic in the second frame to pull ahead 44-40 by halftime. The two club’s two big men Othello Hunter and Hassan Martin went toe to toe in the third quarter as Chris Jones drilled a triple at the end of thirty minutes to keep Maccabi close down 69-66. However, after a back and forth fourth quarter that saw Scottie Wilbekin drop a deep 3-pointer to knot up the game at 82-82 with four seconds remaining, Aaron Harrison nailed a game winning shot form beyond the arc to give the hosts the victory.
Martin led the way for Olympiacos with 16 points and 8 rebounds, Sasha Vezenkov scored 14 points while Harrison dropped 12 points and Spanoulis 11 points in the win. Wilbeken scored 18 points, Othello Hunter added 15 points and Chris Jones chipped in with 12 points and 6 assists in the loss.
1) Maccabi Tel Aviv is in trouble. Big trouble. As much as the players will say that they are improving as every game goes by (and they are), you just can’t be using Euroleague regular season games as preseason contests. You can’t try things out on the fly, split minutes up and then hope to pull out the win, it doesn’t work that way, it just doesn’t. We’ve heard all of the excuses already that training camp began late because the 2019/20 campaign came to a conclusion at the end of July. We’ve heard that Ante Zizic and Dragan Bender are still getting into shape. We’ve heard that other teams have played many more exhibition games. We’ve heard that practice at this stage is more important than playing games. Well, that just not the case and to add insult to injury, Maccabi fell once again in the final minutes of the game. “It was a tough game, which came to the last shot,” said Elijah Bryant who was defending Harrison on the game winner. “I think we played well, the guy hit a tough shot and you have to tip your hat to him.”
Let’s face it, Maccabi needed to start training earlier, Maccabi needed to play more exhibition games and Maccabi at this point really needs the Israeli season to try things out instead of using precious and valuable Euroleague games to work on things. “We are sad because we lost our third game in a row in the final minute” said a disappointed Sfairopoulos following the defeat. “We will continue to fight, practice and improve our game, especially on the small details, to get these types of wins in the future.” Bryant echoed the coach’s comments, “It’s sad to lose but these are games that we will win later in the season as we continue to get better and build good habits.” Maccabi fans hope that this will be the case going forward.
2) Now that we’ve gotten some of the issues that are plaguing Maccabi’s start let’s focus on the positive and that has to be Chris Jones and Oz Blayzer. Jones, who looked superb in his first game in Yellow & Blue in the win over Alba Berlin played sparingly over the past two contests as fans and media alike called for the Angelo State product to get more minutes and that’s what happened. With over twenty minutes of action Jones showed that he is a true blue Euroleague player and as he said after the first game “with a chip on his shoulder.” And that’s good news for Maccabi. Not only can he shoot which he shows very nicely in Greece especially with his last second triple at the end of the third quarter, he can dish out the ball and pull down some rebounds too. But perhaps most importantly, Wilbekin benefits by Jones handling the ball as it gives him some time off of it and move more freely without the ball handling responsibilities. Oz Blayzer showed that he is also a player who can contribute at the top level with 10 points in 26 hard working minutes that saw him standup to all of the Olympiacos players. As Coach Sfairopoulos said when asked what he can take away from the game, “The positives are Chris Jones and Oz Blayzer, who proved they are true EuroLeague players.” Blayzer himself also sounded upbeat despite the defeat, “I’m proud of the guys’ fighting spirit. From now on, we have only one way to go, and that is upwards. I think we’ve progressed from the previous games, and now we have to keep pushing because it’s still a long season, and I’m sure we will win the next game.”
3) Aaron Harrison is the ultimate winner. He hits winner shot after winner shot under pressure and has done that since his college days. The Sports Rabbi was fortunate to interview Harrison ahead of the game and he spoke about his path that has now led him to the Euroleague and a chance to make his mark in the continent’s best competition. The guard back downs form no one and looked once again like the player who nailed triples at the death for Kentucky back in the NCAA Tournament. So who better tp give the ball to with just 4 clicks left on the clock with the score tied? Harrison of course. “With the personality of Aaron, we won this game,” said Bartzokas about his new found gem. Harrison credited Bartzokas for putting him in the position to help the team grab the W, “Coach told me to be aggressive and drew up a great play. I just had to do something to help my team win. Both teams were tired but we just figured out a way to win. We played hard and everybody stepped up. A good win.”
What is going to be with Ante Zizic and his compatriot Dragan Bender? In a combined 20 minutes on the floor at the Peace and Friendship Arena the results were abysmal with a total of 4 points, 5 rebounds and 3 turnovers. That’s just not good enough and way off the mark as to what Maccabi Tel Aviv needs out of these players. They not only are lacking in passion they are also playing with low intensity and have not improved over their last few years in the NBA. Zizic can score in the paint as he did against Bayern, but his defense as mentioned in the wrap-up of last game is a major issue that coach Sfairopoulos is well aware of. Perhaps it’s time to bring in a player who can play the center position the way Sfairopoulos needs it to be played and there is a Euroleague Champion, Israeli Final Four MVP and three time Israeli league winner available who is very familiar with Maccabi Tel Aviv and to top it off, an Israeli to boot. That’s one Alex Tyus. The Florida product played with Maccabi Tel Aviv on two occasions between 2013-2015 and 2017-2019 and is a proven commodity at they highest levels of Europe. You know exactly what you’re going to get from the veteran in 10 points and 5 rebounds a game as well as all of the intangibles of a professional.
On the topic of big men, Hassan Martin looks to be a real steal for Olympiacos. The Rhode Island product arrived in Piraeus from Buducnost after putting up phenomenal numbers in EuroCup action last season with 13.6 points, 8 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.8 steals per game. The Staten Island, NY native played his first pro season in Japan then moved to Germany and from there to Montenegro as he now takes his first steps in the Euroleague. So far with Olympiacos, Martin has put up excellent number in 10.5 points and 6 boards a contest while playing solid defense which is something he has been known for after winning two Defensive Player of the Year awards in college. Against Maccabi he made sure to flex his muscle with 16 points (8/9 from the field), 8 rebounds and an efficiency rating of 21. Impressive to say the least and I am sure that this is not the last time we have heard from Martin; he will just be getting better and better.