Maccabi Tel Aviv couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in Euroleague postseason play as it cruised to a 79-67 win over AS Monaco on Tuesday night to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-five quarterfinal series.
With the victory, the yellow-and-blue also takes home-court advantage as Game 2 will be held Thursday back in Monte Carlo while Games 3 and 4 will be next week in Israel.
Oded Katash’s squad began their 2023 postseason campaign at the Gaston Medecin Arena in Monaco accompanied by close to 800 yellow-and-blue fans who made their presence felt the minute the gates were opened.
With Israeli flags galore along with the Independence Day holiday of Yom Ha’atzmaut as a backdrop, the Maccabi faithful called the names out of each player one by one as they waved to the crowd which made up about a quarter of the attendance.
The backcourt duo of Wade Baldwin and Lorenzo Brown outdueled Monaco’s trio of guards Mike James, Jordan Loyd and Elie Okobo while Bonzie Colson scored a pair of important triples in the first quarter, Darrun Hilliard did serious damage in the third period while Josh Nebo made his mark in the second half to overwhelm the hosts and notch the win.
Baldwin led the way with 20 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists, Brown added 15 points, Nebo chipped in with 12 points, Colson scored 11 points and Hilliard ended the night with 10 points in the win. James and Diallo paced Monaco with 15 points each for Monaco while Donatas Motiejunas and Elie Okobo each scored 12 points in the loss.
Comments on the game
“It was a really intense and aggressive game,” Maccabi coach Oded Katash said. “We approached the game well, we controlled the defensive rebounds which was the main goal for us and we stopped their running game. We won the game through defense and I’m really happy. But this series will be a battle until the end.”
“Congrats to Maccabi we weren’t mentally ready to play this game,” a disappointed Sasa Obradovic said of his Monaco side. “It seemed that we wanted the game to end fast and there were some shots which we had to score. They were much more physical than us. Our shot percentage from 3 was not good and the 7 turnovers in the third quarter cost us easy points on the fast break which decided the game.”
The pro-Maccabi atmospher didn’t stop John Brown, Diallo, James and Okobo from scoring for Monaco, but Baldwin with a jumper and Colson with a pair of triples for Maccabi Tel Aviv kept the game all knotted up at 8-8 midway through the first quarter.
Lorenzo Brown hit a floater, James answered with a layup, Darrun Hilliard nailed a turnaround jumper while Baldwin had the last word with a triple at the buzzer to give the yellow-and-blue an 18-16 lead after 10 minutes.
While most of the people that were visiting the Principality were meandering around the world-famous Monte Carlo casino with all of its glitz and glamor, hanging out by the yachts checking out the prince’s automobile collection or catching a bite to eat while enjoying the scenery, there was nary an indication that there was a basketball game that would take place on the evening.
Maccabi didn’t mind that there was little attention given to the game in town as Hilliard and Baldwin both got busy to begin the second quarter, Lorenzo Brown then added a reverse layup and Alex Poythress scored to bump up the Maccabi lead to 26-22 with five minutes left in the first half despite the egregious foul calls on Katash’s squad.
Baldwin hit a long two, Brown went to the hoop for a pair, Diallo dunked twice, Hilliard fed Poythress as he glided to the hoop for a dunk but Motiejunas put in a pair to stay close as Maccabi stayed in front 36-33 at halftime.
One person who was in attendance and was busy at halftime was French soccer great David Trezuguet, who soaked up every minute of the first half and took selfies galore with anyone who came by.
Israeli fans remember seeing him play in person for Les Bleus back in 2005 during World Cup qualifying against Israel at the old Ramat Gan Stadium in a contest that he scored in the 50th minute but was then sent off five minutes later.
However, Avram Grant’s blue-and-white was only able to milk out a draw.
Perhaps the star’s presence right in front of the basket Maccabi was scoring on helped out as Nebo made quick work on that floor with a dunk and Brown added a layup, Baldwin added a 3-point play and Nebo put in another bucket to help Maccabi to an 11-3 run and a 47-36 lead midway through the third period.
Nebo put down a miracle hoop, Hilliard drilled a pair of triples, Brown added one as well, but the parade of Monaco players to the free-throw line kept the hosts hanging around but down 60-50 as Maccabi took a 10-point lead into the final frame.
The basketball facility which was renovated two summers ago just prior to Monaco’s first season in the Euroleague saw a huge facelift that added close to 1,000 seats in the arena that is located underneath the Stade Louis II Football Stadium. Light wooden chairs with a pair of balconies at either end seemed to mesh perfectly with the unique dark parquet which is unique to any of the continental hoops floor.
It seemed that the yellow-and-blue enjoyed playing on this court as they kept pouring on the offense with Brown, Colson and Baldwin all finding points. James scored from the outside and inside for Obradovic’s club, but Nebo answered with a jam to keep Maccabi ahead 68-57 with five minutes remaining in regulation time.
Baldwin and Nebo found the bucket, John DiBartolomeo went from deep to score his first points of the game and then fouled out, but no matter as Maccabi grabbed the precious road win as the players along with their fans celebrated with Israeli flags, Hatikvah and in song to kick off the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations.