Maccabi Tel Aviv legend Earl Williams is credited as having coined, “Nobody f--ks with Maccabi at the Yad,” meaning that no team can outplay Maccabi in its home court, Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu Sports Arena. When Williams arrived Tuesday to be honored, loved and inducted into the Yellow hall of fame, the team was not Maccabi Tel Aviv but rather Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and the game was held not at “the Yad” but rather at Nokia Arena, as it was renamed several years ago.
These days many teams beat Maccabi in its home court. On Tuesday coach David Blatt’s team was beaten for the fourth time this season by a Spanish team, ending its hopes of reaching the Final Four. Somebody definitely f--ked with Electra in the Nokia.
There were high expectations for the Maccabi-Real Madrid series. Some pundits believed Blatt’s experience and wisdom would be too much for Pablo Laso. Others hoped the momentum from the Top 16 would continue and that the atmosphere at Nokia would make a difference. Some prayed that Real would find itself in one of its trademark mental crises and implode, as it has many times in recent years despite superior squads and the legendary coach Ettore Messina at the helm. All these hope fell flat.
There was one topic pundits preferred to avoid before the series. There was no discussion of whether Maccabi could actually beat Real in a simple basketball game, without taking into consideration the pressure, prayers, Zionism or superstition. The reason was that when it comes to basketball Real is much better than Maccabi. Its squad is deeper, stronger, taller and better constructed. Real has the right balance between stars and fighters, with a strong defense and extremely confident three-point-shooters.
Laso’s substitutions are sometimes strange and his decisions sometimes political, but all in all Real is simply a much better team.
Maccabi hit the glass ceiling in this series without even making a dent in it. Making it this far in Europe, was, in many ways, a miracle, far beyond its true abilities. Maccabi managed this miracle with one real point guard, one true center, one star who just couldn’t score in this series, one player who earns more than all others but can hardly score and one Lior Eliyahu.
An excellent team like Real put an abrupt end to Maccabi’s dreams and miracles. Real’s coach and players figured out how to stop Shawn James and Devin Smith, didn’t allow Maccabi to run to fast breaks and had a field day as far as offensive rebounds. Real beat Maccabi fair and square without needing miracles or luck charms.
Being brushed away by a 3-0 sweep in the quarter-finals is probably best for Maccabi. Now the club has a better grasp of the direction it needs to take in order to become, again, the power it once was in Europe. Trusting Blatt to squeeze the lemon dry and hoping that the home fans will do the rest is a nice attitude, but its limits are obvious. Now coach David must sit down with the players and management and declare: It’s about time we started talking basketball.