Ketch vs. Messina, head to head (photo: screenshot, Euroleague TV)
1. Woe to shame, woe to shame
"What is this strange league?" asked me yesterday (Thursday) one of the people of Maccabi Tel Aviv early in the morning, in light of the crowding of the Euroleague table.
"You win and win, and in the end you don't make the playoffs."
And so, anxious for its future and the fate of its impressive streak of victories, the team showed up for the key match against Olimpia Milano.
She knew very well what was at stake: a victory would practically guarantee - which might become official tonight - the qualification for the quarter-finals;
A loss may be an introduction to a difficult entanglement.
Well, the early fears were matched and became a reality.
Almost a painful reality.
Shame on you: 18 seconds into the third quarter, as Jake Cohen picked up the yellows' first offensive rebound of the entire game.
And oh for shame: during this quarter they lost three whole balls - three more than in the entire first half.
It's not for nothing that they say, apparently, that the Milanese have the best defensive team in the factory...
And on a serious note: Maccabi did not take rebounds in the attack, because there were none.
She hit 19-of-23 for two in the first 20 minutes.
23-19, 82.6%, an all-time record pace.
And during this time, when she had zero turnovers, her players distributed 14 assists for 22 field goals (and one more assist, number 15, for a free throw).
There is no data that could testify better about a team that plays correct, fluent, happy and efficient basketball.
And beautiful too.
Probably the most beautiful basketball in the Euroleague, as of the end of March 2023.
20:18 minutes without an offensive rebound, that's how it is when you don't miss.
Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrates (Photo: Danny Maron)
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2. Well, so is he a "Euroleague coach" or not?
For 17 whole years, the best minds in Israeli basketball tried to crack Ettore Messina, and failed.
In 1990, the Italian wizard lost to Efi Birnbaum and Maccabi Ramat Gan in the European Cup for Cup Holders, 96:95 at the end of extra time;
His next loss to a Hebrew-speaking coach came only in 2007, when he surrendered in the Euroleague to Finny Gershon's Olympiakos.
17 years, 14 consecutive wins, over six different coaches.
Who did not fall on the way?
Birnbaum and Gershon, Zvika Sharaf, David Blatt, Gadi Kidar, the late Jacob Adler. They all lost to him one after the other, when he coached at Virtus Bologna, Benton Treviso, CSKA Moscow and the Italian national team.
The Torah of Sinai was and remains a coach of historical magnitude.
Last week we mentioned here the "Maccabi does not exist" website, which previously presented the Israeli league table while ignoring the yellows;
On the site "Zeljko Obrodovic does not exist", Messina would become the number 1 decorated player in the history of European basketball.
No one, apart from the genius from Serbia, has lifted more continental trophies than him.
But something has long since expired in the magic of Messina.
15 years have passed since his fourth and last EuroLeague win, and as his seasons in Milan wear on, his status is only eroding.
And there is one who looks at him from the side and does not understand what the commotion is about.
Until a few weeks ago, the social networks raged after every loss of Maccabi Tel Aviv, and every time the question arose whether Oded Ketch is the so-called "Euroleague coach".
The man stands on a perfect balance of 0:3 on the Torah from Sinai.
83:86 in 2021 with Panathinaikos, 71:77 at the end of 2022 with the yellows and 66:85 sharp, resounding and clear last night.
"We made Maccabi Tel Aviv think," Messina characteristically scolded after his regional defense cracked Maccabi in one of the games in the 1990s.
He tried to do this yesterday as well, and for a moment it seemed that the Katshams were getting stuck and losing their minds.
So they stopped for a moment, thought - and neutralized another mine.
This is the highest margin in which the Italian coach has ever lost to an Israeli opponent, just like the 82:63 in the Final Four 2011. It is not certain that this is the last time this season we will compare the current Maccabi with that team of Blatt, Guy Panini, Sopho Chorzanitis, Jeremy Fargo , Doron Perkins and Chuck Eidson, which reached the finals.
"He's yellow, he's yellow," they sang at Gate 11 in response to the revelation of his summary.
Wade Baldwin (Photo: Danny Maron)
3. Fascinating in the summer, boring in the winter
The defeat in Tel Aviv sealed officially, definitively and mathematically the fate of Milan's failed season, and reset its chances of screwing in the top eight.
When Messina was asked by Or Shakedi what would have caused it, he went into detail about the injuries to Kevin Pangos and Shavon Shields and Devon Hall and Gigi Datuma.
"If Lorenzo Brown was sidelined for two and a half months, do you think Maccabi would have enjoyed such a run?", he asked in response.
Messina was not wrong about the facts, but he made assumptions for himself.
He built the team around a trio that cannot play on the same field in the same uniform;
Pangos, Niccolò Meli and Brandon Davies produce heavy and formulaic basketball, lack luster and no threat from the outside.
It is no coincidence that the almost miraculous recovery journey of this group began when Shabazz Napier (the cut of this player) joined, and next to him Johannes Vogtman was resurrected to produce the necessary spacing for him.
The Milan puzzle will greatly affect the Euroleague map for next season.
Will coach Messina get backing from the president of basketball affairs at the club, whose name happens to be Ettore Messina?
And if he decides to leave, who will replace him?
And what will they do in the capital of fashion with the heavy contracts of the actors who are not suitable for each other?
And on whom will Giorgio Armani pour the next millions?
The answer to each of these questions will lead to a fascinating domino effect on quite a few rivals in the factory, so that if Olympia was terribly boring during the season - it seems that at least in the summer it will once again become (as usual) one of the fascinating teams on the continent.
The face says it all.
A despondent Ettore Messina on the bench in the hall (photo: Danny Maron)
4. Six days a year with a negative balance
One thing is already guaranteed for Maccabi Tel Aviv: even if they accidentally recorded their last victory yesterday, they will end the season with a positive balance.
Even if you lose the two remaining games in the regular league, and even if you are defeated 3:0 in the playoffs, the Israeli team will stand at 18:19.
In fact, they fell into a negative record for only six days during the entire season, after succumbing to Bayern Munich back then in the 11th round.
It is not yet clear how this season of the Yellows will end, but one essential and significant difference can already be marked - and by means of it symbolize the healthy process that the club has gone through since the disgrace of Bnei Herzliya in the playoffs last year: unlike all the past years, the team has a firm and solid foundation on which it can build the itself and try to upgrade for the future.
Lorenzo Brown, Bonzie Coulson, Jarel Martin, Josh Nieveau, John DiBartholomew, Roman Sorkin, Jake Cohen (yes, Jake Cohen!).
And another one, Wade Baldwin.
When was the last time Maccabi had such a broad skeleton that, for her, she needed to be guarded at all costs?
"He's yellow, he's yellow," they sang to him at gate 11 after the final buzzer, in response to the news published here at halftime about the conclusion regarding the extension of the star's contract.
With the right embellishments and the necessary adjustments, it is possible that the wonderful journey that is currently unfolding in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood is just the promo for beautiful days that are still ahead for the club.
These two surely remember.
Doron Perkins and Guy Panini in those days (Photo: Kobi Eliyahu)
5. Israelis and Basques refuse to be enemies
Over many weeks, Maccabi fans got used to cheering on their arch-rivals Partizan Belgrade, Baskonja, Zalgiris Kovna and Anadolu Efes.
Now they have to turn their scarves, and instead of looking down - they have to look up.
Suddenly, their interest is that the Basques beat Fenerbahce tonight.
No one is thinking about eight-pointers anymore;
At issue is the fight for places 6-5 and avoiding relegation to seventh place.
who would believe.
So on the one hand, as explained above, the current Maccabi Tel Aviv resembles the finalist from 2011.
And on the other hand, yesterday she slammed the door on Milan with a 66:85 victory, while the legendary champion from 2014 eliminated the same opponent with a 66:86 victory.
And on the third hand, maybe this Maccabi is a duplicate of the team from 2000?
Just yesterday it was 23 years since the victory over Puff Bologna in the game that returned the Yellows to the Final Four after a nine-year absence.
People slept in the hall square in Yad Eliyahu to be first in line for tickets, the police had to send horses and horsemen to the arena to prevent chaos, and the madness around is starting to remind of those days.
2000, 2011, 2014. Hard choice.
And the truth, also early.
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