By Amy Samin
Even before the starting whistle, the capacity crowd packed into Nokia Arena went wild, joyously celebrating the return of new/old head coach, Pini Gershon.
Gershon responded to the warm welcome with a surprise gift to the fans; his starting five featured none other than much-loved team captain Derrick Sharp.
The other starters were Marcus Brown, Lior Eliyahu, Carlos Arroyo and D’or Fischer.
Malaga’s starting lineup included Omar Cook, Jiri Welsch, Robert Archibald, Carlos Jimenez and Thomas Kelati.
Malaga was unfazed by the frenzied welcome for Pini, and got off to a quick 6 – 2 lead two minutes into the game.
The home team came back with a 7 – 0 scoring run, which gave Maccabi a 9 – 6 lead within a minute and a half.
Then the tide turned against Maccabi, and Malaga regained the lead with the help of three straight shots from outside the arc, bringing the score to 22 – 14 with three minutes left in the quarter.
A time-out called by Pini effectively stopped Malaga’s momentum, but Maccabi couldn’t capitalize on it.
A three-pointer by Welsch gave Malaga a 28 – 20 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter didn’t start out well for Maccabi, and the home team found themselves down by 15 points (35 – 20) two minutes into the quarter. A dunk by Tal Burstein put color back in the faces of the fans, but Malaga’s defense refused to give an inch, and at five minutes into the quarter had maintained their solid lead, 38 – 25.
A time-out called by Malaga ended up helping Maccabi, who came back from the break to put on an 11 – 0 scoring run (which included two three-pointers by Brown), which closed the gap to 38 – 36.
Maccabi had narrowed that lead to one point when yet another turnover (10 by Maccabi versus 2 by the visitors in the first half) led to more Spanish points, and the half ended with the score 44 – 40, Malaga.
A basket by Burstein two minutes into the third quarter were Maccabi’s first points of the second half.
Malaga capitalized on lax play by Maccabi and had expanded their lead to 50 – 42 after three minutes of play.
For most of the quarter, Malaga’s lead remained pretty much the same, until two passes from Brown to Fischer, which ended up in points for the center, closed the gap to 52 – 50 with four minutes left in the quarter. The perfectly-timed entrance of Omri Casspi, who scored five straight points, gave Maccabi the lead, 58 – 56 with a minute and a half left in the quarter.
Some sloppy playing by Maccabi ended with Arroyo being injured and heading to the bench with seconds left in the quarter.
Dror Hagag took his place on the court, and scored a beautiful three-pointer, but the Spaniards retook the lead with free throws as the quarter ended, 62 – 61.
Malaga opened with fourth quarter with an 8 – 0 scoring run, while Maccabi was unable to put together an effective offense.
A three-pointer by Arroyo three minutes into the quarter only closed the gap a little, 72 – 64.
Pini decided to gamble on his guards, and got the pay off of three-pointers by Burstein and Brown, which brought Maccabi within five, 75 – 70.
Maccabi wasn’t able to shrink Malaga’s lead more than that, but was at least able to hold back the Spaniards’ offense, keeping them scoreless.
A basket by Casspi was answered with free throws by Jimenez, and the teams went into time-out with a minute and twenty seconds left on the clock with the score 76 – 72.
In the end, time ran out for Maccabi and Malaga handed them their first at-home Euroleague defeat, 80 – 72.
Maccabi: Arroyo 14 points; Brown 13 points; Burstein 12 points; Eliyahu 11 points; Casspi 8 points; Fischer 7 points; Hagag and Simmons 3 points each; Sharp 2 points.
Malaga: Top scorers included Kelati with 23 points; Jimenez 15 points; Ndong 11 points; Cook 10 points.
Pini Gershon: “We lost this game on turnovers.
Both teams had low percentages, and turnovers and free throws are what made the difference.
It’s a matter of basics.
There were a lot of unnecessary turnovers; not from passes, but turnovers that really didn’t need to happen.”
“There’s more than a few things to change,” continued the head coach, “but it won’t happen in one day.
I came to improve the team, I’ll work to improve the team, and with the right opportunities we will improve.
Even with what we have right now, we can produce more; but a score of 75 at home leads to a situation where things can depend on mistakes being made here and there.
We need to score 85 or 90 in order to win properly.”
“There’s only a limited amount that it’s possible to do in two and a half days.
I said before that win or lose, this game is Efy’s, but I’m taking this loss on myself.
I tried to increase our point average.
The momentum of the first half went to them because of three point shots.
I told the players that the percentages would go down, and right after that they started missing shots.
In spite of that, they scored better on average from outside the arc.”
Carlos Arroyo, who was Maccabi’s high scorer with 14 points, said, “This was a very bad game for us.
It’s depressing in general, and we played badly.
We didn’t have energy.
We’re a much better team than it would seem after tonight’s game, and I believe we’ll show that in the future.”
Omri Casspi added, “We were missing the small things that would have made the difference: a rebound here, a good pass there, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.
The change in coaches had a huge impact on the fans, who were crazy with energy.
They believe in us, in the coach and the team.
We need to keep on the way we’re going, with full energy.
Every time I’m on the court I try to prove to Pini that I deserve to be there; I hope he’ll think well of me.”