Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv did not ask for more than two weeks without a game. But Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos used the time away from competition to emphasize certain fundamentals at practice that ended up helping the club finally end a painfully long losing streak.
On Thursday night, Maccabi finally played its first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague game of 2022 and knocked off Olympiacos Piraeus 84-69 in the team’s first game since an Israeli League contest on January 3.
“We didn’t ask for the break. It happened because of sickness. We didn’t want to have a break, but we took advantage of the break in our favor. We practiced, we rested, we reinforced our bodies and we worked on details that helped us to play how we played today,” Sfairopoulos said after Maccabi’s first EuroLeague win since beating AS Monaco 95-84 in Round 10 on November 17, 2021.
Sfairopoulos said the team at times during the COVID-imposed break did not have 10 players at practice to go 5-on-5, but it still helped make up for what was essentially an entire lack of a pre-season as Maccabi was battling a COVID-19 outbreak within the team in the build-up to the season.
“When you don’t have a pre-season, you cannot control the team and how it will work, and you make a lot of mistakes,” the coach said. “The things don’t work as you want but you don’t have practices to improve things. And you have a lot of games that go against the organization of the game.”
Keenan Evans said the time working as a team to get better was a major factor to end the losing skid. “We just got back to practice during those COVID weeks and we just pushed each other and we worked,” Keenan said.
The guard noted the biggest thing about the Olympiacos win was the turnovers; Maccabi committed only 4 turnovers.
“Every game in this losing streak we were on it was like 15-plus turnovers. We really changed the game with turning the ball over only four times,” he said.
Maccabi averaged 14.8 turnovers per game during the eight-game losing streak. The team was only once below 12 turnovers - in the first loss with 9 turnovers against Olympiacos. And Maccabi committed 18 turnovers in a 2-point loss to Real Madrid.
Maccabi was close to setting a new club record for the fewest turnovers. Sfairopoulos’s men had committed only 3 turnovers going into the final 2 minutes. But Scottie Wilbekin committed a turnover with 1:54 minutes left and Maccabi finished with 4 turnovers, tying for the club’s fewest in EuroLeague history - accomplished twice (February 6, 2003, against Buducnost Podgorica and January 10, 2008, against Unicaja Malaga).
All in all, Sfairopoulos was happy with his team’s showing - thanks also because of the time it had to practice. “Everybody was focused and did the right things - the things that we worked on. We had time to work.”
Now, the question is if there is enough time to get back into the race for the playoffs.