No miracle happened in Tel Aviv last night. We could see the difference between the Spanish basketball league and the Israeli basketball league in the meeting between the newly crowned cup holders of both countries.
Maccabi Tel Aviv kept up with Group F leader Barcelona for 20 minutes but could not overcome a third-quarter lapse, falling 82-77. In dropping another Euroleague Top 16 home game last night, Maccabi’s record sank to 2-5.
The hosts were able to rally the troops for the fourth period, with Ricky Hickman scoring seven of his team-leading 19 points in the final period, but Maccabi dug too big a hole to get out of. While Maccabi outscored Barcelona 24-15 over the last 10 minutes, it still trailed by 10 points with 90 ticks left, indicating the outcome was never in doubt in the waning moments.
Maccabi started off the game well enough with a 9-2 run through the first three and a half minutes, capped by a Devin Smith basket.
It is hard to remember the last time Maccabi started a home game playing zone defense, which is more characteristic of an underdog, but it worked. Barcelona turned over the ball four times during that opening stretch, and the fact that Pete Mickeal had committed his third foul by the sixth minute of the contest was a good sign.
Barcalona, however, needed just over two minutes to erase that lead and go ahead briefly.
Down 18-16, Maccabi reeled off six straight points on three-pointers by David Logan and Yogev Ohayon.
In the second quarter, Maccabi went up by five points before Barcelona went on a 10-0 run, capped by a downtown trifecta by former Maccabi favorite Sarunas Jasikevicius. Maccabi would pull within a point three separate times during the rest of the period, finding itself down 41-39 going into the break.
If head coach David Blatt thought the first half would instill confidence that his team could pull off the upset, Barcelona had other ideas. The visitors scored the first nine points of the third quarter, forcing Maccabi to play catch-up the remainder of the game. Maccabi could not get closer than six in the third period, the last time at the 3:38 mark, before Barcelona reeled off another run, this time eight straight points, to establish a double-digit lead that lasted until the final minutes of the game.
Blatt said after the loss that it has become very hard for Maccabi, but it isn’t over. He said the team needs to win five games in the second round of contests. He did admit he didn’t know where his team would find those wins, but that is what the team needed. The way Maccabi played against Barcelona, which is in a league of its own, bodes well for the Israeli team’s chances down the road, said the coach. He stressed that he had no complaints against his players for their performance, noting that the team lost its way a bit in the third quarter.
Blatt added that perhaps he could have introduced the rotation he used in the fourth quarter somewhat earlier, but that Barcelona is a tough team which is hard to pressure.
Maccabi hosts Siena, the other dominant team of Group F, next Thursday.