Maccabi Tel Aviv Guard Norris Cole.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The Euroleague season is only one month old, but Maccabi Tel Aviv already needs to get used to a change in status.
After two seasons in which it failed to live up to its illustrious name, punching below its weight in continental basketball’s premier club competition, a scintillating start to 2017/18 has got the yellow-and- blue fans believing a return to the glory days is actually possible.
Last Thursday’s 90-83 win over Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid at Yad Eliyahu Arena brought back memories of triumphant seasons, with the fire displayed by the players on the court and the atmosphere created by the fans off it reminiscent of the days in which Maccabi was a regular member of the Final Four club.
With 24 more regular season games to play, it is pointless to speculate regarding Maccabi’s chances of reaching the quarterfinal playoffs, not to mention the Final Four.
What is clear though, is that Tel Aviv couldn’t have wished for a better start to its campaign, which is evident in the fact that it enters Tuesday night’s showdown with Efes Istanbul at Yad Eliyahu as an overwhelming favorite.
After opening its season with five straight losses, Efes finally got off the mark with an 89-85 win in Barcelona last Thursday. That still leaves the Turks tied for the worst record in the Euroleague, while Maccabi is tied for second at 4-2.
Two of Maccabi’s players will be facing their former team on Tuesday.
Deshaun Thomas and Alex Tyus have been coming off the bench for the yellow-and-blue, but have played an integral part in Maccabi’s success to date. Thomas leads the team in scoring with 14.8 points per game, averaging 21.0 points over the team’s last three contests after scoring a game-high 21 against Real.
Thomas is also averaging 4.7 rebounds per game, second in the team to Tyus, who is tied for the league lead in rebounds with an average of 8.0. That has helped Maccabi emerge as the league’s top rebounding team (41.8 rpg), with Efes not far behind, sitting second on boards with 36.8 rebounds per contest.
Maccabi set new club records with 53 rebounds and 22 offensive boards against Real, out-rebounding the visitors by 20.
Another significant factor on Tuesday could be three-point shooting.
Maccabi is second-worst in the Euroleague at 29.1 percent, while Efes is thirdworst at 29.6%. Istanbul did mange to convert 10-of-22 (45.5%) shots from beyond the arc against Barcelona, and Maccabi will be keen to avoid a repeat of that at Yad Eliyahu.
“This means a lot. We worked really hard for this,” said the 26-year-old Thomas after the win against Real.
“This lets us know that we can play with anybody. This game was a test for us to know who we are. I know after this game we turned a lot of heads. I think we kept our composure as a team and we played really hard.”