Blatt maintains yellow-and-blue still has hope

Mac TA’s coach sees home showdown with Siena as last chance to turn tide in Top 16.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Ricky Hickman 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Ricky Hickman 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Even the ever-optimistic David Blatt admitted on Wednesday that the duel against Montepaschi Siena at Nokia Arena on Thursday night presents the yellow-and-blue with its final chance to resurrect its Euroleague Top 16 campaign.
Maccabi lost any realistic hope of advancing to the quarterfinals after falling to a 2-5 record at the midway point of Top 16 Group F with last week’s 82-77 home-loss to Barcelona.
However, Coach Blatt was adamant on Wednesday that Tel Aviv has still got plenty to fight for and is desperate to maintain its lingering chance of progressing, at least for one more week.
“This game is beyond important,” Blatt said in his pre-game press conference.
“This is certainly our last chance. I don’t think we lacked ambition or motivation in our previous games, but we will have to be even more ambitious and motivated because there is certainly no way back from this game.”
Siena beat Maccabi 79-69 in Italy in their Top 16 opener, with the teams splitting their two encounters in the regular season.
However, Tel Aviv’s win over the Tuscans came more than four months ago, with Siena going 6-1 in the Top 16 so far, only losing to Barcelona on the road.
Siena has been unstoppable on the offensive end at times this season, leading the Euroleague in scoring (83.9 PPG), three-pointers made (193), three-point percentage (41.6%), free throws made (267), free-throw percentage (81.2%) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.45).
The team’s proficiency from beyond the arc is especially impressive, with Siena averaging more than 10 three-pointers per game, scoring 53 more triples so far this season than the league’s second-best side.
“Siena is a very good and dangerous team,” Blatt said.
“Their results in the Top 16 talk for themselves. They have weapons and a system that really work for them and we will have to limit them by first and foremost playing for the full 40 minutes. Our biggest problem until now has been that we’ve played not so good minutes beside some very good ones and we need to avoid that against Siena.”
Blatt acknowledged that the most his team can do to deny Siena from beyond the arc is to make sure its shooters don’t have any uncontested shots.
“There are some things that depend on us and some that don’t when it comes to their three-point shooting,” he said.
“The key for us is to make sure they don’t have any open shots from beyond the arc. If we do that, than it will then be up to the basketball gods.”
With Lior Eliyahu’s chances of returning from injury in time for Thursday’s game very small, Maccabi will need someone unexpected to step up.
Blatt is at least confident that his players will not be lacking in fighting spirit despite losing three home games in the Top 16 in heartbreaking fashion by a combined seven points.
“I think that the players feel that we still have a chance,” he said. “We haven’t given up.
That’s for sure. And even when we no longer have a chance we will continue to play.”