After falling behind by 12 points in the first quarter, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv rallied in the second to get back in the game before pulling out an 86-84 victory over Real Madrid.
Over the course of 40 minutes, Maccabi played great offense. It scored at least 21 in three quarters and shot 60% on two-pointers and 44.4% on three for the game. The problem was the early defense. The Israeli champs allowed 33 first-quarter points before regrouping and keeping Real to 51 the rest of the way.
"They came out and I think we let them be too comfortable," Maccabi captain John DiBartolomeo said. "They did on the offensive end whatever they wanted. They were coming out of screens easy, walking into shots easier. From a defensive standpoint, Xs and Os is one thing, but if your energy and your aggressiveness isn’t there, it doesn’t matter. I think that's what we changed. It helped us that we started hitting some shots on offense as well and that kind of fed our energy. But we need to start from a defensive end at all times."
With 1:21 remaining in the first quarter, Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos made a trio of substitutions, sending DiBartolomeo, Othello Hunter and Oz Blayzer into the game alongside Angelo Caloiaro and Tyler Dorsey. Those five would carry Maccabi on a 13-0 lead for the team's first lead of the game. From that point on, Maccabi never trailed by more than 3.
As DiBartolomeo said, making shots helped fuel the energy needed on defense to make the drive happen. With the rest of the team struggling, Dorsey made 3 first-quarter three-pointers. DiBartolomeo made a three on his first possession on the floor. When Usman Garuba rejected Dorsey as he drove for a layup at the end of the first quarter, Hunter quickly grabbed the ball and beat the buzzer for his first points. Indeed, once they got going on offense, the energy was there for the comeback.
Dorsey ended up with a career-high 30 points, which is tied for the eighth-most in club history along with some of Maccabi's all-time greats, Nikola Vujcic and Sarunas Jasikevicius. He only missed three shots all game and was a constant source of offense with 9 first-quarter points, 7 in the second, 6 in the third and 8 in the fourth.
With the game on the line, Dorsey rose to the occasion. He made a go-ahead three to make it 71-70 midway through the fourth quarter. After committing a costly turnover with a minute remaining and seeing Walter Tavares tie it for Real, Dorsey took charge with a basket-plus-foul with 34 seconds remaining that gave Maccabi the lead for good. He added a key jumper on the next possession, too.
The win was Maccabi's second in a row and its eighth in its last 11 games and saw it climb even closer to the playoff zone. To have such a performance against Real in a victory was not enough to cause Dorsey to get too excited. Asked after the game if it was his finest game in a Maccabi uniform, he responded: "I'd say not overall, but offensively it was good."
"I'm never satisfied with what I do and we have to continue to keep fighting and try to climb back up into the playoffs," Dorsey explained. "There's a long couple of months left before then, so we've just got to continue and keep fighting defensively."
Indeed, the lesson learned by Maccabi on Thursday was that its offense and defense are intertwined. And when they play with energy, Coach Sfairopoulos's men are as tough as they come.