Maccabi Tel Aviv gets ready to take on Monaco in the Principality on Thursday night as it looks to string a winning streak together in order to solidify its place in the standings and take a big step forward in advancing to the Euroleague postseason for the second straight season.
But the yellow-and-blue will need to find consistency and play a full 40 minutes of basketball if it wants to end the regular season on a high note.
Last week, for roughly three full quarters against Bayern Munich, Maccabi looked very similar to the Maccabi that fell 67-61 to Hapoel Jerusalem in the Israel State Cup Final. Ironically, the score at the end of the third quarter was 67-61 which somehow was the wake-up call that Oded Katash’s team needed and needed desperately.
With a potential record of 12-13 staring Tel Aviv squarely in the eyes with 10 minutes to go in what was for all intents and purposes a make-it-or-break-it game, Lorenzo Brown, Bonzie Colson and Wade Baldwin pulled it all together and raced off to a 29-15 final frame to take the win.
If Katash and Maccabi had any designs on advancing to the playoffs where only eight of the 18 teams will have the privilege to play, they had to win this game by hook or by crook. Most probably a record of 7-3 over the last 10 games should be enough for Maccabi to slip into the postseason, but of course, that is easier said than done.
“We can’t worry about missing shots, but we can control fouls, boxing out and we have to step up on these things to win in the future.”Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach Oded Katash
“I’m happy with the result,” Katash began. “Two different halves, even the first 27 minutes we weren’t aggressive enough. We didn’t use our fouls smart enough and we were not consistent. But I’m happy we were able to turn around the game and get the W. We can’t worry about missing shots, but we can control fouls, boxing out and we have to step up on these things to win in the future.”
Maccabi faces tough road ahead
With six teams competing for the final three places, it’s a big hodge-podge as Maccabi will need to find a way to navigate through these wavy waters. A comeback win over Bayern Munich is a good start to ensure that the team remained over .500 and didn’t drop under sea level for the first time this year, but the trip to Monaco will not be a picnic.
On the plus side of the ledger, Maccabi was able to pull it together and mount the late comeback, plus was able to see Brown and Baldwin once again look comfortable playing together as well as featuring solo throughout the game. But on the minus side, Bayern slaughtered Maccabi on the boards to the tune of 45-33 and 19-8 on the offensive glass with Katash’s team only winning the battle of the boards in the fourth and final quarter.
“Our smallest lineup was when we didn’t give up offensive rebounds,” Katash commented. “Some were long ones and you need some luck with those, but of the 19 we could have gotten six or seven, which could have cost us the game. To win a game with these stats, we had to do something special and we were able to.”
Big man Roman Sorkin finished the game with eight points but only two rebounds in 15+ minutes, and he also spoke about the situation on the glass.
“We didn’t box out. Some were far range rebounds. I think in the second half we got back to ourselves and we need every game now for the playoffs. We will show better form moving forward.”
The other issue for Maccabi was the lack of defense throughout the majority of the game as Bayern had free three-pointer after another taking a total of 34 shots from long distance and hitting 12 of them while the yellow-and-blue just couldn’t catch up to the shooters.
The person who was doing most of the shouting was Katash on the bench as he was as active as we’ve seen him this season, knowing that this was a must-win. Lose and basically fold up the shop and prepare for next year which would have been the last thing that the Maccabi hierarchy would want to have to do.
To some extent Maccabi, received a gift from heaven just ahead of tip-off when Vladimir Lucic was ruled out due to injury which left one of Maccabi’s great all-time nemeses on the sidelines. While Andreas Obst tried to play Lucic from beyond the arc, it wasn’t enough for Trinchieri’s crew.
With both Brown and Baldwin back on the court together, Maccabi needs to find a way to play to their maximum with the duo on and off the court together. While Katash would have liked to have had his backcourt in prime position chasing into the final stretch of the season, injuries are also a part of the game and have to be taken into account.
“We paid a price as the team as we wasn’t used to playing with two ball handling guards,” Katash explained. “We made the run with one of them and I was happy as to how Wade played at the end of the game. We need everyone in order to win the games coming up.”
In Monaco, Maccabi now has a chance to go two games over the .500 mark. However, that won’t be an easy task in a small awkward arena where there won’t be 10,000 fans breaking down your neck, but only a few thousand.
That extra energy that the fans at Yad Eliyahu provide is a critical component to the success of the team this season and will obviously be crucial for the final five home games of the campaign which will see the likes of Bologna, Milano, Real Madrid, Fenerbahce and Baskonia. Not easy, but also not impossible to take all five.
Trinchieri, who has spoken about the ghosts of Yad Eliyahu in the past knows exactly what type of influence the home crowd can have on a game.
“Maccabi has won many games at home but despite this we played a great game. Those six free-throws, it’s never easy to play here, 10,000 fans and they had a push.”
“We have the best fans in the Euroleague,” said Colson who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “They provide us energy and we feed off of it. I love the fans and we need them to come every game. I try to provide energy the best I can on both sides of the floor and get the crowd involved. I always feed off the crowd.”
Should Maccabi win one more on the road or even two with trips to EFES, Villeurbanne and Zalgiris along with a next week’s stop at Monaco, it will be in a fine position to find its way to the promised land.
But of course, that is always easier said than done.