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“That’s why we love our job” – Maccabi sinks Olympiacos 65-64

Wilbekin bucket hands Maccabi the hard earned win

Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Olympiacos 65-64 to move their record to 10-12 in Euroleague action. Scottie Wilbekin scored the winning basket with 4 seconds left in the game to cancel out Vassilis Spanoulis’s long distance triple ten seconds earlier. Wilbekin ended the night with 17 points, Tarik Black who scored ten 4th quarter points finished with 19 points and Michael Roll dropped 9 points in the win. Spanoulis and Nigel Williams-Goss each scored 16 points in the loss.

Olympiacos broke out to a 10-4 lead as Zach LeDay who played in Israel last season for Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and Nigel Williams-Goss each scored 4 points. But 6 points from Wilbekin and four from Black pulled Maccabi to within two points, 16-14 after ten minutes. Both squads drilled down the shot clock in the first half of the second quarter but Blatt’s side increased their lead to 22-17. However, O’Bryant’s 5 points allowed Sfairopoulos’s team to head into halftime down 29-26.

Maccabi and Olympiacos continued going neck and neck to begin the second half as Kane dropped 6 points to give the Yellow & Blue a 39-37 lead with 4:04 remaining in the third quarter. Immediately after the TV time out Olympiacos scored back to back baskets by Spanoulis and Printezis, but Maccabi hung tough as Black, Roll and Tyus hit buckets of their own to take a 45-42 advantage into the decisive frame.

Roll rattled off five points for Maccabi and Williams-Goss scored four for Olympiacos as the host’s grabbed a 5-point lead, 54-49 with five minutes to go in the contest. Spanoulis drilled home a triple right after the timeout but Black scored the next 9 points points while Spanoulis matched him with 9 points of his own including a huge triple from beyond the arc to give the Greeks a 64-63 lead with 14 seconds to go in the game. However, Sfairopoulos gave Wilbekin the ball as he dropped a perfect runner over Axel Toupane to give Maccabi a 65-64 win.

1) Where do we begin? Blatt vs Maccabi? Sfairopoulos vs Olympiacos? Wilbekin vs Blatt? Black? Spanoulis? Wilbekin? The choices are many, but let’s start with Scottie Wilbekin. We’ve seen him miss some big shots this seasons but Sfairopoulos has aways stood behind him and has said in the past that he would hit some winners and he did. I even tweeted in tree first half that if Maccabi was to win the game Wilbekin would have to freelance and he did. 17 points and the runner in the lane for the wining bucket is a pretty good evening despite 1/7 from deep. Scottie elevated high in the air, got a perfect shot off over Toupane and sent the Yellow & Blue faithful home with smiles on their faces with the hope that Maccabi still has a chance to make it into the Top 8. DeAndre Kane spoke about the battle on the court that went down to the wire, “We know what Scottie is capable of and we know what Spanoulis is capable of. Two great players made two great shots but fortunately we won and it was a team win today, including the players on the bench who supported us all; they’re help doesn’t go unnoticed. We are getting things going in the right direction.” With a 10-12 record and 8 games to go, they’ll need to go 6-2. Is it possible? It sure is, but the margin of error is so, so razor thin. Next up Milano.

2) Tarik Black had a monster of a 4th quarter with 10 of his 19 points, but his night could’ve ended in the 3rd frame when he was even a technical for arguing that he was fouled after a dunk. He was close to being ejected as he continued to argue after being T’d up and Sfairopoulos needed to sub him out of the game to calm him down. His teammates showered their love on the “Big Fella” starting with Kane, “The big fella (Black) is a great guy on and off the court. He is one of the nicest guys I have ever been around. He imposed his will tonight. He doesn’t really lift weights but he is super strong. For him to finish with power is really impressive. We know what Tarik is capable of and we need him to keep doing that the whole season.” Jake Cohen sent Black a marvelous pass in the paint that was just so beautiful it was literally threading the needle, “Me and Tarik have been talking and working on that stuff a lot. Trying to get on the same page because I know what a weapon he can be. He’s so strong with great hands. Over the last month we’ve been working on that a lot and you saw tonight that hard work pays off.” Sfairoulos praised his center while also talking about calming him down after the technical, “He had a great game and I’m very happy as to how he performed. Lately, he has been very focused and I want him to continue that way. Of course we need to control ourselves better. Some of our American players don’t know all the rules. I calmed him down and he came back ready to overcome his nervousness that he had.” Finally, Black himself spoke to me in the lockerroom about his performance, “It felt amazing. I’m glad I’m was able to step up and help the team and keep moving forward.”

3) DeAndre Kane made his return probably a little earlier than anyone expected and played his usual stopper role while scoring 6 points. He was super happy in the lockerroom following the game whole also updating us on how he felt, “I feel good. Our chances are kind of in the middle to make the playoffs. My teammates helped me out. We want to win every game. It was a big game between Blatt coming back and our coach who used to coach them but we just want to win. The crowd was amazing tonight. They lifted us when shots weren’t going in to play good defense and get easy points. It was a big win and I’m happy to be apart of it. This is why we play the game.”

It’s always a thrill to be able to see Vassilis Spanoulis live and in person. He’s such a great player who can hit shot after shot from any place on the court. He’s savvy veteran and a player that lays it all out for his team game after game. We were fortunate to see him have a spectacular 4th quarter but we were also fortunate to see Maccabi win. At the pregame conference I asked Coach Sfairpoulos about Spanoulis but he didn’t want to comment on his former player as a sign of respect of his own players and that maybe he would answer after the game. Well, I was lucky enough that he was happy to answer the question and what an answer he gave, “(Laughs) this is one of the best players in Europe. He is a legend already playing basketball. He is the best example for all of the young generation players. How to be ready to practice and ready to play. He takes care of his life including what he eats and what he doesn’t drink. He is very talented. But luckily Scottie scored after his two big 3 point shots to make sure we won the game.”

And-1, And Some
A) Johnny O’Bryant began the game shooting a brutal 0/5 but he didn’t hang his head and played a solid 26 minutes before fouling out as he scored 7 points, went 3/4 from the line and collected 8 rebounds. Johnny is always positive and he knows that hard work will pulll him out from his current stretch, “Rough game. It’s been a rough stretch for me. I know I’m a talented guy and I just need to get back to it and work hard. Scottie hit some big shots. Overall I’m happy man. We got a good win against a good Olympiacos team. I know I’m a key staple to this team offensively and defensively and everybody did a great job tonight.”

B) Obviously Ioannis Sfairopoulos was thrilled to win the game, not only for Maccabi as the Yellow & Blue creep closer to a playoff spot but to be able to defeat his former team. Cohen spoke about that aspect of the victory, “This must be great for Ioannis. The fans made the energy go through the roof and every possession felt like do or die and that’s why we love our job.”

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