Analysis

Scope of Spanish Loss Leaves Maccabi With Something to Prove

Tel Aviv not only has to recover from recent drubbing but also demonstrate it belongs in the same league as Real Madrid.

Tel Aviv not only has to recover from Wednesday night’s drubbing this evening but demonstrate it belongs in the same league as Real Madrid

With three quarters of amazing defense, Real Madrid Wednesday night sent Maccabi Tel Aviv’s basketball squad back two months − to the frustrating nights of the Top 16’s first round. Maccabi reverted to being a team that time and again cedes the defensive rebound and can’t connect on the three. None of its players could dribble past his defender, and the team looked like a nonfactor during the final 29 minutes as Real rolled to a 79-53 thrashing.

Paradoxically, Wednesday’s embarrassing outing shows just how impressive it is that Maccabi got into the playoffs.

Over the course of the game’s first 11 minutes, as Maccabi built a 12-point lead, Real Madrid coach Pablo Laso went to the bench. And what a bench he has: He yanked big men Mirza Begic and Nikola Mirotic, and pulled out of his sleeve Marcus Slaughter and Felipe Reyes. He also put the backcourt in the hands of Sergio Rodriguez and Jaycee Carroll in place of Sergio Llull and Carlos Suarez. Rodriguez was the final piece, coming in just before Landesberg’s three-pointer made it 26-14.

Real’s substitutes then unleashed a 24-1 run and effectively broke Maccabi. If there’s anything that definitely hasn’t changed since the ‘70s era of Juan Antonio Corbalan and Wayne Brabender, it’s that once Real goes on a run at home, it’s quite unpleasant to be the team on the other side.

During the Top 16 phase, Maccabi developed a terrifying dependence on Shawn James, and Real exploited that situation to the max. The Spanish defense effectively boxed him out, sometimes with double- or triple-teaming if necessary. Real put excessive physical pressure on him and forced most of the instances when he got the ball to end in turnovers, missed shots or just plain attempts to get rid of the ball.

Blatt, as usual, tried to mix things up, but Maccabi discovered Wednesday it could not do with James and could not do without him. Planinic is not on his level, and the attempt to play with Lior Eliyahu and Nik Caner-Medley up front lasted about two minutes.

Last year, Maccabi was badly defeated in its first game against Panathinaikos only to make a big comeback later in the series. There’s no need to draw on this precedent to know that the same thing is possible this time. It’s the nature of playoff series, and Laso could yet be sorry for the showboating of the fourth quarter.

The problem is that these kinds of turnarounds are natural among fairly equal teams. What Maccabi will have to do is to prove tonight that it is not only capable of recovering from a drubbing − but that it also belongs in this series. 

AFP