Basketball / Euroleague / Maccabi Tel Aviv's Miracle on the Court

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When the most united team in the Euroleague faces the most miserable one, extreme combinations of numbers appear on the scoreboard, like 91-35 at the end of the third quarter of Maccabi Tel Aviv's blowout against Beshiktash, the Turkish basketball team from Istanbul. 

Before discussing why Maccabi's strengths contributed to such a lopsided score, one should point out to the Euroleague management that perhaps the bottom two teams in each of the two Top 16 groups simply don't belong there.

In Maccabi's group, the two Turkish teams won three games and lost 22. In the other Top 16 group, the two German teams (Bamberg and Alba Berlin) managed only two victories in 25 games. The concept of two strong groups is good in theory, but in order to truly reflect European basketball, it probably should include 12 teams, not 16.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's second round performance is no less than a medical miracle and reflects one of the most spectacular turnarounds in the history of European basketball. What makes it so spectacular is that it occurred without any significant change in the lineup of the players who made it happen. 

Two players, Giorgi Shermadini and Malcolm Thomas, who arrived last summer, are long gone, and their replacement, Darko Planinic hasn't really become an integral part of the team. Nik Caner-Medely, despite his first quarter against Beshiktash, is mostly irrelevant. Lior Eliyahu hardly played in the second round. The only player who raised his level from the first round of competition to the second is David Logan, but he still isn't consistent.

Coach David Blatt's impressive comeback was achieved by a limited group of tough players – Ricky Hickman, Shawn James, Devin Smith and Yogev Ohayon – who seemed to show up for every game with a knife between their teeth. Very few teams in the Euroleague win so many games with so few major players and with only one significant player above two meters (James), who is relatively thin and not that strong.

Maccabi's mental lapses occurred only in the Israeli Super League. In Europe, the team showed up for each game hungry and well prepared, as evident in the way Maccabi thrashed Beshiktash. 

Not too much can be learned from Thursday's game. But Maccabi's second round showing lends food for thought to the diminishing importance of weight and size in European basketball at the moment. We once assumed that a team with a 1.98 meter power forward (Smith) could succeed only in the local league. It now seems that an athletic, defensive, quick team, without too many tall players can do the job in Europe as well.

Will this team be good enough for the final stages of the Euroleague? We'll soon see.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's supporters have had little to cheer so far this season.Credit: Reuters
Maccabi Tel Aviv's coach David Blatt gesturing during their Final Four semifinal basketball game against Real Madrid on May 6, 2011.Credit: Reuters

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