Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv is sitting on a 4-2 record and on a three-game winning streak after a no-doubt-about-it win over a depleted Zalgiris Kaunas on Tuesday night. After Zalgiris went on a 2-18 run to close the first quarter with a 16-20 lead, it was all Maccabi after that as the Israeli team went on to register a 76-62 victory.
The win came behind a defensive effort - one in which Maccabi allowed the fewest points this season, and tied for the fewest since last November. Maccabi actually held the visitors to just 42 points in the final three quarters, and used its defense to outscore Zalgiris 11-0 on fastbreak points and 23-9 on points off turnovers.
But what might be equally important, especially in the long run, is that the team won by 14 points in a game which saw Scottie Wilbekin only score 5 points.
"Their defense was focused on Scottie," coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos explained after the game. "It was tough for him to score, but Scottie knows how to help the team, not only scoring but also doing a different job."
That ‘different job’ saw Wilbekin rack up 5 steals and 6 assists by the end of the game, as well as using his performance to complement his teammates who carried the team in terms of scoring points and grabbing rebounds: Derrick Williams had 17 points and 7 rebounds; Ante Zizic collected 14 points and 9 rebounds, and point guard Keenan Evans had 13 points, 4 assists and 2 steals.
And then there were the unsung heroes.
"I also want to mention Angelo Caloiaro, he had the highest +/- tonight, +25, even though he did not score a lot," Sfairopoulos pointed out without being prompted. "With him on the court, we completely took out [Edgaras] Ulanovas for the game, who is very experienced and a very big power for them to score and create. And after [Arturas] Milaknis created us problems in the first quarter, Kameron Taylor stopped him after that."
Tuesday night's effort showed the glimpses of a chemistry any winning team must have to be successful, and Caloiaro was happy to attest for that.
"Everyone is playing to win," Caloiaro said. "Scottie is not upset he has 5 points tonight; he is happy that we won. That's what you need. You need guys that all buy in, and one common goal. It is not about them, it is about the team. That's the group of guys that we have. It makes it a lot more fun coming to work, to practice and being teammates with the guys like that."
Next for Maccabi is the last unbeaten team, FC Barcelona, coming to town. Regardless of how that game will turn out, Maccabi seems to be nicely hitting its stride, both on and off the court. And on Tuesday night against Zalgiris, the team from Tel Aviv certainly gave the type of team performance that it will be happy to build from.