When AS Monaco and Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv last met, they were both riding high. Monaco was the darling of the competition as a EuroLeague debutant with a 5-4 record that had it in the playoff zone. Maccabi was one win better and tied for fourth place.
On that night, Scottie Wilbekin had Menorah Mivtachim Arena rocking. He set a career-high and tied a club record with 37 points to lead Maccabi to a 95-84 victory. That game proved to be a turning point as little has been right with either squad since.
Now they meet again and their situations are almost dire. Monaco has only one victory since. In that period, it has made a coaching change, hiring Sasa Obradovic in place of Zvezdan Mitrovic, but been unable to capture the early-season winning spirit.
Maccabi has dropped seven games in a row. That marks the Israeli champs’ longest in-season losing streak since the turn of the century. The last time Maccabi lost more than seven in a row was in 1992-93 when it lost eight straight. The coach of that team, Yaakov Adler, passed away on Monday.
Complicating matters further for Maccabi was Sunday night’s 82-83 loss in the domestic derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Tonight’s game at Salle Gaston Medecin is a chance for one team to finish 2021 on a high note and head into a new calendar year with a renewed spirit. Of course, the losing team will fall even deeper into a slump with a growing hole that will be tough to climb out of.
It’s safe to say that when Monaco hired Obradovic, this game was not the reason. After all, Obradovic is 1-6 in his coaching career against Maccabi and lost his only head-to-head meeting with Coach Sfairopoulos last season when Obradovic was on the Cvrena Zvezda mts Belgrade bench.
But the reasons have become rapidly apparent. Although Monaco is only 1-2 with Obradovic at the helm, he has helped turn a good offense into one of the most dangerous in the league, at least by the numbers. Monaco is second in the league in scoring (88.3 ppg.), assists (20 apg.) and assist-to-turnover ratio (2.0) over the last three rounds.
Monaco has gone inside more under Obradovic, averaging a league-best 25.7 two-point shots made over the last three-game at a whopping 57.0% success rate. When Monaco lost in Tel Aviv in Round 10, it shot 22 for 51 on twos (43.1%), dished 11 assists and committed 10 turnovers. The Obradovic version is a different animal.
If Monaco is a different animal, Maccabi is a wounded animal. Coach Sfairopoulos heads a team that has depth, experience, and stars on the perimeter and in the paint. When it all clicks, Maccabi can look like a title-contender, as it showed when it blasted league-leading FC Barcelona by 17 in Round 7. That remains Barca’s most-lopsided defeat since Sarunas Jasikevicius was named head coach before last season.
The swagger Maccabi played with then is all but gone thanks to its current streak. However, with the likes of Wilbekin, Derrick Williams and Ante Zizic, Maccabi could also be ready to erupt. And there would be no better time for the team than now in Monaco.
On the other hand, the eruption must be substantial to beat Monaco’s red-hot attack led by Mike James, Dwayne Bacon and Donatas Motiejunas.
What’s most likely though is that this game will not be a defensive slugfest but rather a game that keeps the scoreboard operators busy. Get your popcorn ready for the fireworks show that Monaco and Maccabi may have in store for Round 17’s Game of the Week.
Seen at: Euroleague.net