Maccabi Tel Aviv dunked Fenerbahce 78-77 in Turkey to complete a double week sweep and move their Euroleague record to 16-8. Angelo Caloiaro found Othello Hunter under the basket off a timeout with 4 seconds left as the big man put the ball off the backboard and into the basket to score the decisive points in a tight battle that went all the way down to the wire.
Veteran guard Aaron Jackson and 2020 NBA Draft Prospect Deni Avdija led the Yellow & Blue with fabulous games of 12 and 13 points respectively while Hunter added 13 points and Quincy Acy dropped 12 points in the win. Derrick Williams was the Fenerbahce high scorer with 22 points while Kostas Sloukas and Nikola Kalinic each dropped 18 points in the defeat.
1) Aaron Jackson showed everyone exactly why Maccabi Tel Aviv brought the veteran guard in due to the rash of injuries the club had been suffering from. A-Jax, a true veteran and warrior played last game with a bum ankle and even needed an injection at halftime in order to continue playing. His participation in the game against Fenerbahce was in doubt, but once again Jackson stepped up for Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos’s squad to lead them to victory. Whether it was making his way to the hoop or facilitating the Maccabi offense, the Hartford, Connecticut native looked exactly like the player the club knew they were signing in December. With a Euroleague title under his belt and many years of experience, Jackson provided the steady on court floor general leadership in a very tough environment on the road.
Sfairopoulos complimented his guard as well as the other players who weren’t 100% for putting in the effort that was needed to take the win, “We had many injuries during the game. Jackson is not fully recovered, he went out of the game and came back. Wilbekin is not ready but he played. Acy had problems with his foot, but all the players gave maximum for the team, and that is the most important.” Jackson also commented about the injuries and how critical the win was for the team, “I know how Scottie [Wilbekin] is feeling, he is on one bad leg. I sprained my ankle a week and a half ago. The same as the last EuroLeague game, I went it, got a shot. We just know how important these wins are. I know how important it is to be at the Final Four level. We want to get where we need to get, so I just went out there and gutted it out.” A true road warrior.
2) We are privileged to be watching a future NBA player flourish right before our eyes in Deni Avdija. At the start of the season it was clear that Avdija was going to get serious minutes and the expectation was that he would play sparingly in the Euroleague. However, due to all of the injuries that Maccabi has had to deal with, Avdija has been thrust into the spotlight in continental play and he hasn’t disappointed one bit this week as he is showing the globe why he will be a terrific pro player in the greatest league in the world. His shooting is becoming more consistent, his passing is improving every game while his court vision is second than none.
Add to that his “Poster” dunk over Gigi Datome plus his playful and fun attitude and you’ve got a true winner. No one should be comparing him to Luka Doncic. Why? Because he’s Deni Avdija with his own skill set and talent. “Everything was against us today. We showed a lot of character and fought like lions.” How about the dunk over the one time NBA forward for the Pistons and Celtics? “Wow. I was in shock. It took me some time to really understand what had happened. It was crazy.” Now that’s Deni Avdija. The NBA is in for a treat and any team that drafts him will be happy they did so.
3) We can’t forget about how perfect a job Maccabi played in Turkey. It was almost flawless. Credit to Coach Sfairopoulos for the work he did in preparing the team and having then fight tooth and nail all the way to the end while calling the perfect play to win the game as Caloiaro found Hunter in the paint to lay in the decisive bucket. Sfairopoulos didn’t look at the key being just the final basket but the game as a whole, “I think it was not only the last possession; we played really smart the entire game. We controlled the game with our defense, we moved the ball on offense. Second half put us under big pressure, but we came back after a timeout and we controlled the game. We had smart play at the end to win the game. We had smart plays from Tyler [Dorsey], who made an important two-point shot. We fought a lot.” Dorsey also spoke about the game that was and the last play, “It was a hard fought battle, tough road win against a really good team and we just had to scrap it out. We practiced that last play that coach drew up and it worked to perfection.”
Jackson revealed that the winning play was just added to the team’s repertoire, “We actually just put that play in, I wanna say, a week ago and it came at the right time. Coach called it up and drew it perfect. A good inbound pass, and [Othello] had a great finish there.” Finally the big man who scored the basket had this to say, “I just tried to be focused. I let Westermann shoot a triple in front of me, so I was kind of like, ‘Man, that was a mistake.’ And coach came up with a play couple weeks ago, and it was a perfect scenario and I just tried to execute. I am happy we won, but it is on to the next one.”
Fenerbahce has been playing much better basketball over the last couple of months and the proof has been in their results. They were oh so close to defeating Maccabi but just came up a whisker short. However, Coach Zeljko Obradovic has been able to turn it around after it looked like mutiny was about to take place in November following his tirade directed at Gigi Datome. “It is not easy. It was a very emotional game. But when you have the game in your hands, and you lose it, it is not easy. I don’t really like to talk about the last possession. It happened in the last 4 seconds of the game, for us it is a lot more important how we played in the first 39 minutes and 56 seconds before we lost. The team fought a lot. The team had a big desire, but it was not enough. We have to play with better concentration and to understand something that has been a problem from the beginning of the season, how to react and how to use certain situations when you are in the lead. We knew how Maccabi plays; we tried to prepare ourselves. The players played with desire, but it was not enough. Congratulations to Maccabi. Thanks to my players for fighting for 40 minutes and thanks to our fans for their support.” There are ten games left in the regular season and Fener is in 9th place with an 11-13 record. There’s plenty of time left in the campaign, so don’t be surprised if they finish in a top 8 spot good for the playoffs.