Maccabi Tel Aviv's Euroleague loss on Friday night against Siena was not one of its best performances this season, but it was the best game the team was involved in.
Head coach David Blatt prepared for the away game by abandoning the lineup rotation and experimentation he usually does in the friendly confines of Nokia Arena, even against strong opponents.
The 89-87 defeat dropped Maccabi to 5-2 and second place in Group B. However, if it beats the three weaker teams remaining on its schedule and Malaga loses in Siena or at Berlin, the Israeli club will still finish top of the group. Blatt says the team has three remaining games it should win. Beating Siena isn't easy, he notes, so he is not so sure Maccabi's fate is out of its own hands.
The truth is, Maccabi does not have to play brilliantly against Berlin, Elan Chalon and Asseco Prokom Gdynia. However, playing 2 for 2 against the two teams representing the kind of competition it would face in the Top 16 should make Maccabi realize that the current lineup may not be sufficient to advance to the playoffs.
Blatt says some of his players need to raise their game sooner rather than later.
Maccabi did have its moments Friday night. After three games of opening with Nik Caner-Medley, Lior Eliyahu replaced him as a starter. Within the first 80 seconds of the game Eliyahu matched his five-point output of Maccabi's loss the previous week and took over 17th place on Maccabi's all-time scoring list.
Shawn James, who took over as the team's leading center in the wake of the mediocre play of Malcolm Thomas and improves from game to game, notched four Euroleague career highs - 22 points, a perfect 9-of-9 from the field, 12 rebounds and 29 minutes.
Yogev Ohayon loves big games and had a fine outing with 10 points and five assists. Ricky Hickman continued to play well, finishing with 13 points - including important baskets in the fourth quarter.
Yet Maccabi still lost. David Logan took some tough shots. Caner-Medley looked out of sync. Blatt inserted both at the start of the final period, only to see Maccabi squander its 65-59 lead.
In the end, poor defense cost Maccabi the game. The defense double-teamed Bobby Brown, cooling off the hottest Euroleague player of the past month. He scored 16 points and nailed just one of six three-point attempts. Yet Brown compensated by dishing out six assists. His teammates got too many open shots from the perimeter as their confidence grew over the course of the game. Siena finished 13-of-27 from beyond the arc.
Blatt said he doesn't like using superlatives but that Siena had to have a big night to win because Maccabi played well. He noted that most of their three-pointers were not easy shots. Rather, it was the little things that lost the game for Maccabi.
He took comfort that the team made some big plays, such as Devin Smith hitting a late three to cut Siena's lead to two, which could be a good sign for down the road.
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