It took about five minutes from the sound of the final buzzer for David Blatt to
finally relax and crack a smile.
After a nightmarish week, Maccabi Tel
Aviv eked out an 83-79 victory over Hapoel Eilat in BSL action at Nokia Arena on
Monday night, improving to a 5-3 record locally and releasing some of the
pressure that has been building at the club since the yellow-and-blue lost its
league opener at Hapoel Holon six weeks ago.
“We needed this win. No
doubt,” said Blatt in his postgame TV interview, finally allowing himself to
smile in relief.
“After the tough week we experienced it was hard to lift
everyone to the level of composure required to win the game. There is pressure
from every angle, but I think we recorded an important win and I’m pleased with
But Blatt’s bleary-eyed smile was somewhat similar to that of a
prisoner on death row who had just found out his execution had been stayed due
to a malfunctioning guillotine.
He may still be alive, but the inevitable
was likely only postponed.
There was speculation that Blatt would have
been fired had Maccabi lost to Eilat after last week’s dejecting derby defeat to
Hapoel Tel Aviv followed by the demoralizing Euroleague setback versus Laboral
A quick glance at Maccabi’s position in the BSL and Euroleague
standings could make an outsider wonder what all the fuss is about.
all, only Maccabi Haifa has a better record in the BSL – by a mere half a game –
and Tel Aviv currently has sole possession of second place in Euroleague Group
D, one game behind Lokomotiv Kuban and one game ahead of Panathinaikos and
But at Maccabi, the level of expectation is so much higher. One
could argue that it is perhaps impossibly high.
A Maccabi coach has to
guide his team to a win in every game. And he has to do so in style, preferably
with Israeli players making key contributions.
It is only a matter of
time until the ownership loses its patience with the coach, regardless of his
identity. Such a level of success simply cannot be maintained over the long
It is a testament to Blatt’s capabilities and character that he
became the first coach since Tzvika Sherf in the 1980’s to start four straight
seasons at the club.
However, despite winning nine of a possible 10 local
titles in his two tenures as head coach, he has had his back against the wall
ever since Maccabi dropped the league title to Maccabi Haifa last season, with
his relationship with several of the owners going sour long before
Defeats in this season’s BSL and Euroleague openers complicated
matters further, as did the shock loss at newly-promoted Ironi Ness
Six straight wins in all competitions over the first 16 days of
November saw Maccabi climb to the top of its Euroleague group and looked to have
steadied the ship.
However, last week’s loss in the derby shattered any
confidence the yellow-andblue had built and the failure to clinch a victory
against a mediocre Laboral side put Blatt’s job in danger.
Maccabi coach to lose three local games so early on in a season was Oded Katash,
the current Eilat coach, and he was fired the day after falling to a 5-3 record
at the end of December 2007.
In his first four seasons as the head coach
of Maccabi, Blatt suffered a combined six regular season defeats. Even in last
season’s erratic campaign, Tel Aviv registered only five losses.
is well on its way to eclipsing that total this season, but it is not just the
team’s results that have got Blatt on the hot seat.
Reports of the
coach’s clashes with players have been rife since the summer and there were two
incidents that were clear for all to see during Monday’s encounter.
the first, Blatt squabbled with David Blu during a timeout in the final minute
of the first half, ultimately benching him until the break. However, Blu was
back on the floor at the start of the second half and helped his team to the
The second confrontation hit boiling point between the third and
fourth quarters and could have longer lasting repercussions.
offended by Blatt’s decision not to send him back out on court, guard Tyrese
Rice sat at the far end of the bench and didn’t even bother to listen to the
coach’s instructions to the team.
Rice never re-entered the
Blatt has long had a reputation of being a perfectionist coach with
very high demands from his players and Rice has struggled to settle in his
system since the start of the season.
Blatt would surely like to bring in
another guard in his place, but the owners are wondering if perhaps it is the
coach who needs to be replaced.
Of all players, it was Guy Pnini who came
to Blatt’s rescue on Monday, scoring 22 points against Eilat after netting a
combined 25 points in the limited minutes he was afforded by the coach in
Maccabi’s first seven league games.
Pnini gave the team, which has often
lacked fighting spirit this season, a spark that seemingly only a
born-and-raised Israeli can provide.
So far this season, Yogev Ohayon has
been the only Israeli-born player who has regularly appeared in Blatt’s rotation
and his absence through injury last Thursday meant that for the first time in
its history Maccabi played an entire game without a true local
The mistakes made in the building of the team last summer,
including the lack of players with local pride, cannot truly be corrected until
It is strikingly clear that changes need to be made to the
roster, but it remains unclear if the owners will allow Blatt to make them
rather than his replacement.
Smiles have been somewhat scarce at Maccabi
in recent weeks.
Blatt took his opportunity to finally relax, at least
momentarily, on Monday, but he knows better than anyone else that long
nerve-wracking days lay ahead as he continues to fight for his life as the coach
of Maccabi Tel Aviv.firstname.lastname@example.org