Less than a week ago, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv was in big trouble.
The Israeli champion had sunk fast following a strong start to the season, losing eight consecutive Turkish Airlines EuroLeague games to leave its hopes of qualifying for the playoffs looking decidedly unrealistic.
But what a difference a couple of games can make. After comprehensively downing Olympiacos Piraeus 84-69 on Thursday night, Maccabi again defended its home court by outlasting ALBA Berlin 87-78 at Menora Mivtachim Arena in a make-up game from Round 20 on Tuesday.
Now, with back-to-back wins secured, Maccabi’s challenge for post-season action is very much back on track with the team just one win short of the playoff zone in a very congested middle section of the standings.
The common thread between Thursday’s win over Olympiacos and Tuesday’s victory against ALBA? Protecting the basketball.
Maccabi committed just 4 turnovers in the corner-turning win over Olympiacos, a joint club record and the first time that such a low number had been achieved since a home win over Unicaja Malaga in 2008.
And on Tuesday against ALBA, Maccabi followed that up by playing a perfect first half in terms of looking after the ball, not committing a single turnover before the break. ALBA, meanwhile, turned the ball over 7 times before halftime, which played a big part in Maccabi attempting 37 first-half shots against 30 from the visitors and therefore in the home team establishing a 7-point lead.
Maccabi continued in a similar fashion in the second half, not committing its first turnover until Jalen Reynolds was called for an offensive foul with 2:28 remaining in the third quarter and finished with just 5 turnovers in the entire game. That allowed Maccabi to take on 14 more field goal attempts (68 to 54) despite losing the rebounding battle (30 to 33).
Guards Scottie Wilbekin and Keenan Evans were particularly impressive in their use of the ball against ALBA, combining for 14 assists (6 from Wilbekin, 8 from Evans) with zero turnovers. They focused their distribution efforts inside, with big men Derrick Williams (16 points), Jalen Reynolds (14 points) and Ante Zizic (14 points) receiving good service to register strong two-point shooting percentages: 5-of-5 for Williams, 5-of-6 for Zizic and 6-of-11 from Reynolds.
The backcourt duo also did a great job on the other side of the ball, slowing down ALBA’s offense by making 3 steals apiece, a big part of the 16 turnovers committed by the German team and another key to the game.
With 14 assists and 0 turnovers from the team’s key backcourt duo, 16-for-22 two-point shooting from the big men and a team total of 10 steals, it’s clear that Maccabi played a very efficient all-round game against ALBA. And coming on the back of a similarly controlled performance against Olympiacos, the signs are good that Maccabi’s sudden upsurge in form could now be maintained.