Sometimes basketball is like a game of chess, one in which the teams must match up and counter each and every move on the court.
Hapoel Holon coach Guy Goodes had his team ready for a tactical battle against Ludwigsburg in Champions League play this week, doing his best to make one move after another to neutralize any type of advantage opposing coach John Patrick was going to try and take with his squad.
Of course, it’s always good to have a few extra pieces on the board that can play the part of the queen and Tyrus McGee was exactly that for host Holon as it downed the German squad 69-51 in their Round of 16 Group Stage clash at the Holon Arena to move its record to 1-1.
As expected, it was a war of attrition early on with the specific style of basketball MHP Riesen from Ludwigsburg is known to play under Patrick. Pressing and full-court defense, running the shot clock down, grabbing offensive rebounds and controlling the boards. That is Ludwisgburg and that is John Patrick. To watch his team operate on television is one thing, to see it in action live is something else entirely.
Following a first half that was almost a stalemate in the truest sense – with Holon holding a razor-thin 22-21 lead – one would think back to a 3-3 NFL game, a 1-0 hockey game or a 2-1 pitchers’ duel in baseball. It’s very, very rare to see a basketball game with the scoreboard showing a combined total of 43 points in 20 minutes of action. In fact, there were more turnovers than field goals.
But that is the beauty of sports. Tactical play sometimes brings out the purest style of the game and if you like chess, then you loved this contest.
“This was a game of chess,” explained Goodes. “We had a number of days to prepare and they are a team that plays a style that is quite different. Many times, they play with a lineup of forwards and they can cause problems for other teams. We could try and deal with this issue by just playing our regular game, but they caused problems for teams like ALBA Berlin and Bayern Munich and many others. Or we could play tactically and match up like a game of chess. So if they put out a small lineup and we do the same.
“The players already knew that they needed to come into the game and they knew exactly what to do. This is what we decided to do before the game and if they went to a four-forward lineup we would do the same. They are very athletic and dangerous and I have to take my hat off to the players. They knew what to do and I am very happy with that.”
As the game entered the second half, the score began to inch up a bit faster than a snail’s pace and it looked as if Ludwigsburg, who had the ball, was about to break the game open with the score at 35-30 and three minutes left in the third quarter. However, Justin Simon missed a floater and Tekele Cotton couldn’t knock down a three-pointer after securing an offensive board. That led to McGee hitting his first of four triples to close the gap to just a deuce as the new/old-comer for Holon ripped off four three-pointers in just 2:27 of play to give the hosts a 42-39 advantage heading into the final frame.
From there, Goodes’s troops outscored the visitors 27-12 to earn the 18-point blowout win.
McGee, who scored a game-high 19 points, had starred for Holon last season with averages of 15.3 points, three assists and 3.3 rebounds across all competitions, and moved to San Pablo Burgos to begin this campaign. But the Spanish team went through some tough times and the guard made his way back to the Holy Land just last week, where he will most certainly be a key player going forward for the success of Holon, not only in the Champions League but the Israeli League and State Cup. While Guy Goodes was thrilled with McGee’s debut, he also wanted to make sure his players kept their feet on the ground.
“I coached against him last season and everyone knows what he can do and the quality that he brings. His passion that I have seen in the practices already, his competitiveness, his energy and those things that can help a team be better than what they are. It’s only one game though and we will enjoy it now and come back down to earth tomorrow and work on the State Cup game that is very important to the club.”
Patrick was also well aware as to what McGee brings to the table as he spoke with a smile about the Holon star.
“We know Tyrus McGee from the beginning of his career with Eisbaren Bremerhaven. He’s a sniper and a very good outside shooter with a quick release and I thought we did a good job for three quarters of controlling him, but at the end of the shot clock three times in a row and one of them a four-point play. This was excellent clutch shooting for him and it’s unfortunate that we lost our concentration near the end of the shot clock.”
McGee himself is just looking to fit in and not rock the boat by being perhaps that missing piece to the Holon puzzle as it tries to reach the top of the top, whether in Europe or Israel.
“It’s my first time playing in a while and I had to get the feel of the game,” McGee noted. “I told myself that I had to help the team both on offense and defense in the second half. I made big shots when it was needed. I felt the love from the fans, all 110% of it, and it was good to be back.”
An added bonus to McGee’s return is the impact that it will have on point guard Joe Ragland, who at times can be a full-fledged floor general. Against Ludwigsburg, Ragland chalked up a double-double with 10 points and 14 assists in an incredible performance.
Goodes also pointed out how McGee and Ragland will be able to man the Holon backcourt to perfection.
“The two guards really play well together, one is scorer and can score in a variety of ways and the other can really dish out the ball. They very much complement each other.”
Holon will now be off from continental play until after the State Cup matchup against Bnei Herzliya on Sunday and the National Team window at the end of the month as the next Champions League game will be in almost a month from now in March. In what will be a tight group with Ludwigsburg, Dijon and Galatasaray, it may be a survival of the fittest.
“It’s a toss-up and it will come down to health,” explained Patrick. “The domestic leagues are tough and we have had injuries. Last season for us, and this season, staying healthy is more than half the battle and for this game we weren’t at full strength.” Goodes also noted that the point differential may play a big factor in the six group-stage games. This may determine who moves on to the knockout stages of the competition as he was sure to make his players well aware that each basket by either side as the game wound down could have a huge effect on placement.
“I knew I had timeouts near the end of the game and I wanted to make sure we kept the point differential. I drilled this into the players over the last few minutes. Every rebound was key because it could affect the score down the road.”