Magnificent Maccabi hands Barcelona its first loss
Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv dominated the first half and played composed basketball late to hand FC Barcelona its first loss of the season, 85-68, at Menora Mivtachim Arena on Thursday night. James Nunnally tallied 17 points and 4 assists and Scottie Wilbekin had 16 points and 5 assists for the Israeli champs who won their fourth straight game to improve to 5-2 while dropping Barcelona out of sole position of first place at 6-1. Big men Jalen Reynolds and Ante Zizic added 10 points apiece for Maccabi, which led by as many as 22 in the second quarter and never let Barcelona get closer than 11 after that. Cory Higgins paced the Barcelona attack with 20 points and Nikola Mirotic scored 17.
Making his first EuroLeague start, Kameron Taylor opened the scoring for Maccabi with a three-pointer and was promptly matched at the other end by Mirotic. Kyle Kuric hit a three from the corner that gave the visitors their first lead, 7-8. The teams traded points – and leads – over the next few possessions with Wilbekin heating up to give Maccabi a 13-10 lead at the midway point of the quarter. Nunnally stretched the margin to 5 before Reynolds fed Derrick Williams for an alley-oop and a 21-14 lead that brought the fans to their collective feet. Rokas Jokubaitis tried to lead the Barcelona resistance, but the Maccabi defense remained persistent and back-to-back triples by Williams gave the hosts a 31-18 advantage after 10 minutes.
Reynolds dished another beautiful assist to Nunnally to extend the margin to 15. Nick Calathes responded with a three-pointer, but Roman Sorkin and Nunnally kept pushing the lead higher. A three by Keenan Evans made it 40-21. After a Barcelona timeout, Mirotic drained a three, but the momentum remained with the Israeli champs. Williams sent a no-look pass to a cutting Taylor as the margin reached the 20s, 45-24. A tip-in by Brandon Davies and free throws by Mirotic quieted the boisterous Maccabi crowd. However, they were cheering again as a three by Nunnally and a put-back by Zizic made it 54-32. The margin settled at 56-36 at the break.
Halftime seemed to benefit the visitors as Mirotic opened the second half with back-to-back three-pointers. Calathes fed Davies for a layup to cap a 0-8 run that prompted a Maccabi timeout at 56-44. Angelo Caloiaro scored Maccabi's first basket of the half and Wilbekin knocked down a three from the corner to make it 62-46 midway through the quarter. Mirotic fed Higgins for a three, collected a steal, drew an unsportsmanlike foul and sank free throws to trim the gap to 63-52. Reynolds battled for a bucket in the paint to keep Maccabi on track. Free throws by Higgins ended the third quarter with the scoreboard showing 65-54.
Reynolds scored inside and Nunnally connected on a three to the delight of the Maccabi faithful before Barcelona guards Nicolas Laprovittola and Calathes kept the visitors in the fight. Wilbekin's pull-up jumper extended the difference to 74-58. Wilbekin remained hot as he found Zizic in the paint and scored a floater of his own. A triple by Higgins could not derail Maccabi as Williams converted a three-point play to give his team an 81-63 advantage. Higgins reached 20 points on the ensuing play, but the rest of the Barcelona offense was struggling and Nunnally restored a 20-point difference with less than 2 minutes to go to start a night of celebrations.
Nunnally is back among the all-time greats
James Nunnally has been considered among the great three-point shooters in the EuroLeague since the day he first suited up For Fenerbahce Istanbul in 2016. In his second season in the competition, he made a remarkable 55.4% of his attempts from deep and for a while was the all-time leader in three-point accuracy. However, a few missed shots can torpedo such numbers quickly. Entering this season, Nunnally ranked fourth at 48.53. However, a rough start to the season saw Nunnally fall out of the top 10. In fact, after making just 3 of his first 16 three-point tries in his first three games with Maccabi, he slipped out of the top 10. Entering the game against Barcelona, Nunnally was 11th all-time at 46.15%. However, his 3-for-4 shooting effort from downtown bumped that number up to 46.64%, allowing him to leapfrog three spots, jumping ahead of Barcelona's Kyle Kuric, for eight on the all-time charts.
Higgins, Mirotic produce as usual
On a night when FC Barcelona was held to a season-low 68 points, the team’s most reliable scorers came through. Cory Higgins scored 20 points and Nikola Mirotic added 17. Higgins made 4 of 7 two-pointers, 2 of 3 threes and was perfect on 6 free throw attempts. Mirotic made 4 of 6 threes and 5 of 6 free throws. The rest of the team combined shot 3 for 14 on three-pointers (21.4%) and only attempted 2 free throws. Higgins had a PIR of 26 and Mirotic 22. The other 10 players combined for a PIR of 18.
By the numbers: Maccabi enjoys 10 extra possessions
Perhaps no number had a larger impact on Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv's victory over FC Barcelona than 18 – the number of Barcelona turnovers. In contrast, the home team had just 8 turnovers, meaning that Maccabi essentially enjoyed 10 extra possessions. In the first half alone, as Maccabi built a margin that reached 22 points before settling at 53-33 at halftime, the visitors had 9 turnovers and the home team 3. From those 9 turnovers – of which 5 were steals, Maccabi scored 17 points. Barcelona did not have any points off the Maccabi turnovers to that point. One Maccabi had such a comfortable lead, it was able to control the game the rest of the way.
Thursday, October 28, 2021