Mac TA tries to steady ship with victory over Istanbul

Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt is hoping his team can come up with one more vintage performance to all but secure second place in Group C.

MACCABI TEL AVIV coach David Blatt_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
MACCABI TEL AVIV coach David Blatt_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Despite staggering into Thursday’s Euroleague showdown with Anadolu Efes Istanbul at Nokia Arena, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt is hoping his team can come up with one more vintage performance to all but secure second place in Group C.
Maccabi has suffered a significant drop in form since Jordan Farmar returned to the US following the end to the NBA lockout.
It barely edged Red Star Belgrade in the Adriatic League and Hapoel Holon in the BSL before falling to humbling defeats at Real Madrid in the Euroleague and at KK Zagreb in the Adriatic.
Tel Aviv needed a Devin Smith basket with 1.3 seconds to play to get the better of Maccabi Rishon Lezion in local league play on Monday, but Blatt acknowledges his team has stuttered recently and will need to show a significant improvement on Thursday to defeat Istanbul in a crucial encounter.
“I’m very calm despite the recent struggles, but I’m burning inside with a desire for us to get back to our best,” Blatt said on Wednesday.
“It has nothing to do with the media and with what is being said about us. It is all about my character and me being someone who wants to win and guide Maccabi to good performances.”
Maccabi seemed set to finish top of its regular season group after winning five straight games to improve to 5-1.
However, a defeat at Partizan Belgrade in Farmar’s final game for the team and the thrashing in Madrid, combined with winning streaks by Real and Efes, have seriously complicated Tel Aviv’s situation and put it in real danger of ending the group in third place, which will likely result in a far tougher draw in the Top 16.
“We have seen a dip in form in recent weeks for two reasons,” Blatt explained. “We lost a ball handler who creates opportunities for other players and we did so much traveling to road games that it affected our play. That is not an excuse, but it is an explanation. We need to find a way to play without Jordan and help our struggling players back to form. The fact that we are playing at home and have been in Israel in recent days will certainly help. I haven’t lost my way or control of the team, we have simply experienced a difficult period and now we need to pull out of it.”
One of the players expected to play a bigger role since Farmar’s departure was Theo Papaloukas.
However, the 34-year-old Greek playmaker has been a complete non-factor in recent weeks, playing a combined 34 minutes and scoring a total of six points in Tel Aviv’s last six Euroleague games.
“It is not nice that you keep asking me why certain players aren’t playing,” Blatt said. “In a normal place I wouldn’t be asked this. I decide who plays and who doesn’t.”
Istanbul has also lost an NBA player since Maccabi beat it 79-72 when the teams met in Turkey earlier this season, with Ersan Ilyasova returning to the Milwaukee Bucks.
However, Ilyasova was far less significant to Efes than Farmar was to Maccabi, averaging only 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Istanbul has won three straight games since beginning the group with a 2-3 record, and despite struggling with injuries, coach Ufuk Sarica believes his team can avenge its loss to the yellow-and-blue in Turkey.
“Both teams have qualified for the Top 16, but this is an important game for ranking in the group,” Sarica said.
“Tel Aviv is one of the hardest away courts throughout Europe. We absolutely must be smart and put all our energy on the court to win. This time we have got some troubles.
Ersan Ilyasova’s left and Tarence Kinsey and Esteban Batista’s injuries will make it difficult for us. We must play a very good basketball game to win on Thursday night.”
Since Farmar’s departure, Keith Langford has become Maccabi’s top scorer, but Blatt will need the American to share the ball more than usual and bring his teammates into play if Tel Aviv is to win on Thursday.
One player who has suffered from Farmar’s exit more than others has been Lior Eliyahu.
“When you play three times a week you are going to have some better periods and some worse ones,” Eliyahu said.
“I think this is a great opportunity to get back on track. We have struggled with scoring recently, but we have been working on that. Hopefully our shots will go in on Thursday and the big-men will get into the game like they know how to and everything will be fine.”