The only two backcourt teammates on the All-EuroLeague team last season, Maccabi's Wade Baldwin and Lorenzo Brown, aced their first game together in this one.
Together again, Baldwin and Brown boosted Maccabi
Eight months ago, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv guard Wade Baldwin made headlines by boldly stating that his partnership with Lorenzo Brown formed the best backcourt combination in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.
"It's simple," said Baldwin after a victory against Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz. "Lorenzo is the best point guard in the EuroLeague and I'm the best combo [guard] in the EuroLeague. We have five more games left, and if we don't finish out and make the playoffs, that statement holds no weight. But right now, we're playing like the best duo in the EuroLeague."
Well, Maccabi did make the playoffs, Baldwin's confidence was at least partially justified, especially when viewing the end of season stats. They showed that Baldwin averaged 17.2 points and 5.1 assists per game, while Brown combined 16.4 points with 5.5 assists. That was enough to earn both of them All-EuroLeague selection. Brown was voted the first team and Baldwin the second, meaning that Maccabi was the only team featuring two All-EuroLeague guards. The coaches, team captains, media and fans who voted certainly agreed with Baldwin's bold claim.
In the opening weeks of this new season, though, Maccabi was forced to do without one half of that deadly duo, Baldwin himself, who did not play in the first five games due to a back injury. Instead, Brown shared backcourt duties with new signings Antonius Cleveland and Tamir Blatt, and with long-serving veteran John DiBartolomeo.
That was still a pretty strong line-up for coach Oded Kattash to call upon, but let's face it: nothing beats a star guard duo. From Acie Law and Vassilis Spanoulis at Olympiacos, Nando De Colo and Milos Teodosic at CSKA Moscow, Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull at Real Madrid to Vasilije Micic and Shane Larkin at Anadolu Efes Istanbul, the EuroLeague has had some stellar guard combinations over the last decade or so. The presence of two game-changers in the backcourt can often spell the difference between a title contender and an also-ran.
So, it was a very welcome sight for Maccabi when Baldwin returned to the lineup on Thursday, making his season debut in the team's first "home" game at the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall in Belgrade with a visit from FC Bayern Munich.
Rather than ushering Baldwin gently back into business for a couple of minutes here and a few possessions there, Kattash demonstrated his eagerness for his returning star to hit the ground running by naming Baldwin in the starting five – and keeping him on the floor for more than 25 minutes.
As you might expect from a player lacking in game time, this wasn't a classic Baldwin performance. An early turnover for stepping out of bounds as he received a pass was a clear sign of rustiness.
But, being the confident and motivated competitor that he is, Baldwin kept going and kept backing himself, ending up with solid totals of 12 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals, including his first three-pointer of the season at a crucial moment midway through the fourth quarter. He also ended up 6 turnovers, however, leaving plenty of room for improvement once his rhythm returns.
Most importantly, Maccabi ended up winning the game 93-90 to improve to 4-2, thanks partly to a strong finale from Brown who scored 6 consecutive points in the final 3 minutes, making sure Bayern's attempted comeback would fall just short.
And at the end of it all, the numbers, once again, spoke for themselves: Brown and Baldwin both scored in double digits, as well as combining for 10 assists and 5 steals. The best in the league? Time will tell, but they will certainly take some stopping.