The players from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bayern Munich will not soon forget the evening in the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall. Normally, 8,000 spectators support their club Partizan there, in the Palilula district in the north of the Serbian capital Belgrade. The noise is often deafening because they are so hot-blooded. On Thursday, however, the shouts of the coaches and the squeaking of the soles of the shoes on the parquet could be heard through the microphones of the station that was broadcasting the game live. Not a single fan was in the hall, the stands remained deserted.
There was a Corona ghost game atmosphere, but the reason was not a pandemic, but the war in Gaza. Maccabi is therefore no longer allowed to use its home stadium for security reasons; Belgrade is now Tel Aviv’s new home in the Basketball Euroleague until further notice. However, without spectators, also because of security in times when Israeli citizens are hostile and threatened in many places around the world.
“We all play for our families, for all the people who were kidnapped.”
Maccabi won the game against Bayern 93:90 (46:43), that was the sporting consolation. The statements of the players and the coach also showed how much it hurts them to have to play in the diaspora. Maccabi’s Israeli coach Oded Kattash said: “It’s not easy playing without an audience, we had to find our energy. It’s really crazy circumstances. It doesn’t feel like home right now. Hopefully we’ll find a home here. “
Point guard Tamir Blatt, who was born in Netanya, 30 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, and played for Alba Berlin until last summer, came to the topic that concerns Maccabi far more than sport right now: “First of all, I would like to talk about it situation in my home country. We are all playing for our families, for all the people who have been kidnapped. All we want is for them to return home.” Blatt then expressed the hope that “we can put a smile on some people’s faces,” as sport can be a distraction even in the darkest of hours.
What was also clear that evening, from a sporting perspective: The FC Bayern players had no smiles on their faces after the final whistle, after their fourth defeat in a row in the Euroleague. Neither did Carsen Edwards (17 points) and Serge Ibaka (16), the guests’ two best throwers that evening.
The Munich team started strong, initially leading 7:2 and later 19:17 after the first quarter, their defense was good. They had by far the better throwing rate from the field. They were still leading at 36:31, Wade Baldwin, the former Munich player in Maccabi’s service, was nowhere to be seen after recovering from his back injury, nor was his partner Lorenzo Brown, the other pillar in Tel Avi’s build-up game.
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Not a nice perspective: Bayern’s best Carsen Edwards (below) sees former Bayern and current Maccibi development player Wade Baldwin pass him.
(Foto: Milos Vukadinovic/Euroleague Basketball via Getty)
There were only two problems that evening from Munich’s perspective, which canceled out all the other positive aspects. One was the free throws: only nine of 14 ended up in the basket, while Maccabi scored far more points from the line: 23 of 25 meant an outstanding rate of 92 percent.
The second, even bigger problem: the turnovers. The Munich team managed to lose the ball 23 times. Also in the phase shortly after half-time, when Maccabi got a comfortable lead (67:59) for the first time. These sloppiness became particularly painful three minutes before the end. The Munich team had fought their way back to 82:83 thanks to Leandro Bolmaro, but then the 23-year-old Argentine lost the ball unnecessarily twice in the build-up game within a few seconds. These scenes were the key to Maccabi’s narrow victory. Bayern coach Pablo Laso fumed, later dressing up his analysis in diplomacy: “I think we had a pretty solid game, in many situations offensively and defensively. But if you lose the ball 23 times, it will be difficult. We have Losing the ball in crucial moments is something we have to learn from for the future.”
Bayern can also learn from the defeat in Belgrade how to regulate their own game; on Sunday (5 p.m.) they will be challenged again in the Bundesliga against Telekom Baskets Bonn. By the way, Baldwin and Brown found their line at exactly the right time in the second half. Nevertheless, none of them was voted player of the game, but Maccabi’s Bonzie Colson, who scored 19 points – and hit all five of his free throws.
But these statistics were not the focus on Thursday evening either. In a game that Tamir Blatt concluded with the sentence: “We miss our fans.”