For the first time since 1993, Maccabi Tel Aviv finds itself in Game 5 of a playoff series in Israel. Bnei Hasharon, which visits Nokia Arena tonight in the quarterfinal decider, has gotten the job done as best it can, but something is not clicking with the defending champions. Maccabi point guard Andrew Wisniewski says the problem is purely mental.
"The team was overconfident," he explains. "Games 2 and 3 against Bnei Hasharon were good, and that affected us. Instead of eliminating them, we gave them confidence."
Wisniewski is adamant that the problem doesn't lie with the coaching staff's pregame preparation. "Pini Gershon and Sharon Drucker prepared us well," he says. "They warned us to play like we were down 2-1. Pini repeated it a lot, but Gershon and Drucker can't be in our sneakers. They can't be on the lines. We have to be ready from the opening jump."
The point guard says it feels like the team went through similar ruts in the Euroleague. "A lot depends on us, in the way we come to play Maccabi basketball," he says. "We can beat any team, but when we don't come fired up, we give the opponent confidence."
It's unclear how you get into this situation?
"Right. Shimon Mizrahi and management have the right to be angry about this loss. The players should also be mad."
Something similar happened against Partizan Belgrade. Why does it keep happening to Maccabi this season?
"How many games did this happen this season - three times?"
But always in important games.
"Basketball is made up of various people, and everyone brings something else to the game. I'm proud I showed up all year with the same level of intensity. I try to play hard whether or not I scored. Not everyone on the team has the same mentality, and that's okay."
Wisniewski refuses to name names but insists that the whole team needs to change its attitude. "Everyone has to be focused for 40 minutes," he says.
And now it's a make-or-break game. Will the pressure play a role?
"Not on me. I can't speak for the others."
Though the season has two weeks left, and perhaps only one game for Maccabi, Wisniewski allows himself to rate the season. "In general, we were successful - the wins over Siena and Real Madrid, winning the State Cup," he says.
"Remember, this is our first season together, and continuity is important."
How was your season?
"I'll let others decide."
And what about the rumors that you'll leave after the season?
"There are rumors about every Maccabi player. They write that next season I'll play for all kinds of European teams. It's not true. I signed with Maccabi for two years. I'm happy here, I love playing here, and I've played well this season. Rumors are part of the sporting life."Afula completes rally to stay in league
Hapoel Afula yesterday rallied past Ramat Gan to complete its comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the best-of-five relegation playoffs to save its spot in basketball's Super League. Visiting Ramat Gan led by nine with five minutes remaining, but Afula closed out the game with a 19-5 run to win 86-81. "Staying in the league is more joyous than winning titles," said Afula coach Eli Rabi, who previously coached women's champion Elitzur Ramle.
Arie Livnat and Ohad Shvirman contributed to this article.
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