The differences had been shrinking lately, but the fact remains that eight visitors tried their luck at Menora Mivtachim Arena this season, and every time, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv sent them home with defeats. Until Real Madrid came to town on Thursday, that is.
Although Maccabi rallied late with 2 triples in the last 25 seconds, Madrid still won 77-81, and the victory had everything to do with the visitors knowing how to deploy their great depth. One by one, they took turns taking over stretches of the game until Maccabi ran out of time and answers.
The first to try his hand was Anthony Randolph, Real's leading scorer, who had missed all of 2020 so far -- five games -- the last three of which his team had lost. Randolph's return was eye-popping. He started in spectacular form, scoring 11 of Real's first 13 points of what would become a team-high 19.
"We were watching him shoot before the game, and we were not expecting a great night," head coach Pablo Laso confessed afterwards. "But then the game starts and then everything goes in. He's a very important player for us. He gives us depth, and I think between him and Trey [Thompkins], they played great for us at position 'four'."
Indeed, when Maccabi went ahead by 8 points in the second quarter, reserves Thompkins, Jeffery Taylor and Jordan Mickey combined for 13 points to get the visitors within 38-36 at halftime.
Right out of the break, starters Facundo Campazzo and Fabien Causeur teamed up for 8 points in a 4-12 run that put Real in charge, 42-48. And that lead was lengthened to double digits as big Walter Tavares had 3 of his 5 blocks in a 3-minutes 24-second span during which it seemed that no Maccabi player could even think of scoring inside.
"A big part of the game was, I think, the third period, when we didn't execute on offense with confidence," Maccabi boss Ioannis Sfairopoulos said. "There was hesitation sometimes." He did not name Tavares, but it was clear who imposed that hesitation on Maccabi by playing volleyball with all of the hosts' shots.
Sergio Llull stepped up with all of his 5 points in the first half of the fourth quarter, then Campazzo returned to score 9 of his 11 in the final 2:08, all of which proved necessary for Real to become the first visitors this season to leave Tel Aviv happy.
It was much more than just the first road win against Maccabi, however. Had Real lost the game by more than a point, Maccabi would have vaulted past the visitors into the top four in the standings. Instead, having won both of their games, Real now holds a potentially crucial tiebreak and an inside track to home-court advantage in the playoffs. To wear down a direct opponent for that privelege, taking turns in Tel Aviv proved the perfect tactic for Real's long and talented roster.