This season, Maccabi Tel-Aviv has played in three separate leagues, playing well over 80 games in a compact schedule that often involved taking connecting flights around Europe to get to countries such as Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Despite the fact that Maccabi typically breezed past opponents in the Adriatic league, there was no doubt that the team felt a large sense of accomplishment with this title after their intense travel schedule.
Maccabi controlled this game right out of the gate, with impressive defensive execution.
Dominating the paint from the opening tip, Maccabi held Cedevita to a mere 1-for-18 shooting on 2-point shots in the first half.
Keith Langford, the game’s MVP, led Maccabi with 21 points, penetrating his way through Cedevita’s defense and making some difficult contested shots. Richard Hendrix was fantastic around the basket, scoring 16 points (8-of-10 shooting) and pulling down seven rebounds in a mere 21 minutes while limiting the up and coming 7-footer, Miro Bilan, to 4 points. Any time Cedevita showed signs of life, Maccabi’s shooters David Blu (3-for-3 on 3PT) , Guy Pnini (2-for-3 on 3PT) and Devin Smith (3-for-4 on 3PT) knocked down timely buckets, breaking Cedevita’s spirit.
Cedevita seemed quite nervous in their first time playing in an Adriatic league championship, arguably the biggest game in the history of the franchise.
The team knew going into the game that they needed to come out strong to hang with Maccabi, but they were outmatched from the early moments of the game. Cedevita was led by the game’s leading scorer, Levour Warren (South Carolina), who had 24 points on 6-for-8 shooting from behind the arc. Star guard Dontaye Draper (Charleston), was limited to 8 points, barely making an impact on the game amid rumors that he has agreed to a deal with Real Madrid for next season.
Cedevita is in the midst of its best season since the franchise was purchased by Atlantic Grupa in 2005, competing in the Eurocup, finishing 2nd in the Adriatic league, and currently in contention in the Croatian league after finishing the regular season in 2nd place.
The club will be making its first appearance in the Euroleague next season, and with good ownership and smart decision-making, Cedevita is surely a team on the rise in Europe.
As with players, it is crucial for teams to take a step by step approach to playing at the highest level, and the fact that Cedevita built themselves up before hoisting themselves to the Euroleague should bode well for the long-term success of the club.
Teams should take note (Maccabi Haifa, this means you) that creating a plan that involves incremental progress, and sticking to that plan without making impulse decisions, is the only way to build a team that will consistently play at the highest levels in Europe.
Maccabi participated in the Adriatic league this season in an attempt for the league to build up its product by adding another team with a high level of talent and tradition that will draw fans.
Maccabi was well received on the road in the Adriatic league, drawing big crowds on the road, and occasionally getting applauded for their play in opposing gyms. In addition, the chance to play at the Nokia Arena in Tel-Aviv proved to be a great experience for many Adriatic league teams. Members of the Croatian media were amazed by the atmosphere in Tel-Aviv during the Final Four, as 11,500 fans packed the stadium, chanting and singing from start to finish.
The additional schedule of the Adriatic league may have been tough travel-wise, but since the league has no restriction on how many foreigners can play, it gave Maccabi the chance to use its full roster, as opposed to the Israeli league in which only four non-Israelis can dress. Those extra minutes kept most of Maccabi’s roster happy throughout the year, and helped the team keep its chemistry strong over the duration of a long season.
Whether Maccabi will participate in the Adriatic league next season has yet to be determined, but with Maccabi currently lobbying for the Israeli league to change the rules limiting the number of foreigners, it is possible that Maccabi will use the threat of leaving the league to only play in the Adriatic league, as a means to get what it wants.
With their Euroleague and Adriatic league seasons both wrapped up, Maccabi looks ahead to the Israeli league playoffs, where they will square up against Frank Robinson (Cal State Fullerton) and Dion Dowell’s (Texas) BC Habikaa squad in the quarterfinals. Habikaa will be playing without leading scorer Paul Delaney (UAB), giving the team very little chance of sneaking a win in this best-of-five series. However, with a one-and-done format in the Israeli league Final Four, Maccabi’s work this season is far from over.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.