Maccabi staring down 2-0 deficit vs Real

As the Euroleague quarterfinal series shifts to Tel Aviv, yellow-and-blue faces a monumental challenge.

 SCOTTIE WILBEKIN and his Maccabi Tel Aviv teammates will have to improve on all aspects of their game if they have any hopes of pulling off a comeback against Real Madrid. (photo credit: Dov Halickman)
SCOTTIE WILBEKIN and his Maccabi Tel Aviv teammates will have to improve on all aspects of their game if they have any hopes of pulling off a comeback against Real Madrid.
(photo credit: Dov Halickman)

Backs against the wall, do or die, it’s now or never.

All those clichés and more apply to Maccabi Tel Aviv as it heads into a must-win Game 3 on Tuesday night against Real Madrid in their Euroleague quarterfinal series after having fallen in the first two games in Spain by a whopping total of 39 points.

The only positive that came out of the opening two contests is that total points don’t count in this best-of-five series; it’s just wins and losses. However, after being bested in Game 1 (84-74) and manhandled in Game 2 (95-66), the gap between the two teams is quite glaring.

The yellow-and-blue had its chances in Game 1 but was always a step behind playing catch-up, especially when Los Blancos couldn’t miss from downtown with veteran snipers Fabien Causeur and Rudy Fernandez doing the majority of the damage.

In Game 2, Avi Even’s troops came to play for most of the first quarter, but then Sergio Llull entered the fray with a vengeance as he looked to put his scoreless performance in the opener to bed. And, boy, did he ever to the tune of three straight triples to end off the first frame and hand his team a 35-26 lead from which it never looked back.

Maccabi was shell-shocked and never recovered from the Llull blitz as it headed into halftime down by 19 points and without an ounce of confidence.

Pablo Laso’s Real continued to pour on the offense as big men Vincent Poirier, Guerschon Yabusele and Walter Tavares scored at will to put the finishing touches on the dominant 29-point win that left Even shaking his head in disbelief as to how his team was totally outplayed and outclassed.

“We lost in almost every aspect of the game,” the Israeli bench boss said. “We need to find a way to come back from this loss, from these two losses. We are heading back to Tel Aviv to get the first win of the series and go game by game.”

Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo was at a loss for words following the game, after having started out so well.

“I don’t know exactly [what happened]. They got hot, we didn’t respond, we didn’t come together, we didn’t get stops, [and] we didn’t get rebounds or 50/50 balls. All those things just compiled into a run and something that we never stopped.”

In both of the games, the yellow-and-blue couldn’t find a way to stop Real’s three-point shooters as they went 16-of-29 (55%) in Game 1 and a still impressive 14-of-35 (40%) in the second contest. The number of shots hit from beyond the arc has been staggering and unfortunately for Maccabi Tel Aviv, this is nothing new. It has had trouble all season long defending the perimeter as one shooter after another has taken full advantage of the porous defense.

“We had some rough defensive minutes and they translated that into easy points,” Even explained. “They took advantage of the game that was in their hands and increased their lead. Their three-pointers – the volume and their percentage – and also the offensive rebounds that they were taking.”

Poirier himself grabbed six of the 13 offensive boards that Maccabi allowed Real to snatch as the Frenchman recorded a 16-point-10 rebound double-double. Maccabi, on the other hand, had no players that finished in double digits in Game 2, which is definitely a recipe for disaster.

“I’m frustrated and upset,” a thoroughly disturbed DiBartolomeo stated. “I didn’t think we deserved to play like that at this stage. We have been through a lot this season and we have been challenged numerous times and I think that we deserve to show a better picture than we did. I am frustrated as to how we reacted when times got tough, It’s not something new for us. We have learned how to deal with these situations and we didn’t do that in the biggest game of the year, let’s be honest. Now we have another challenge and we need to step up.”

Maccabi will be certainly challenged in Game 3. Yes, the yellow-and-blue will be at home in front of its own crowd, which will play the role of the sixth man to perfection. But Real Madrid is on the other side of the court raring to go as it knows that one more win will send it to the Final Four and a chance to take home the continental crown.

“We know that we have a lot of work ahead and we are headed to Tel Aviv,” Real coach Laso said. “But, of course, I am really happy because we have a 2-0 advantage. I expect a great environment and the fans support their team a lot. A team like this is very dangerous and they will be even more dangerous because they will be on their home court. I want to make sure my players feel that they have done nothing yet as we need to win one more game to win the series.”

Poirier echoed his coach’s thoughts.

“The job is not finished. We know that Tel Aviv is a tough place to play. So it will be two tough games. We need to take one, so we will see. We used the home-court advantage well and won.”

Maccabi point guard Keenan Evans is well aware of what the squad needs to do.

“We’ll try to reset and put this game in the past. Not to think too much about it. We can’t do anything to change this game. We’ve just got to wait till the next one. We have to get in the gym, get on the same page and be ready for a big fight.”

Even agreed that the Maccabi players have to put the two games in Spain way out of their heads in order to be able to get back into the series and regain confidence.

“It’s a totally different game. We need to forget these games and go back to Tel Aviv – a place where we feel much more secure. I feel we will find a way. I know we will find a way. We have a few days to prepare ourselves and we’ll do it.”

Finally, DiBartolomeo went straight to the point of Maccabi’s precarious position.

“We put our backs against the wall and we can’t afford any more losses or any more mistakes in that sense. We need to come out and play our basketball and I think if we play our basketball we can live with the result and I think we will have a better result. We weren’t ourselves and didn’t play to our strengths and our ability. That is what made the Game 2 loss that much more frustrating.”