Omri Casspi, Tarik Black, John DiBartolomeo and Nate Wolters. If you add just one more player that would be a pretty formidable line-up, but in fact, it is the list of players who were missing through injury for Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv when reigning champ CSKA Moscow rolled into Menora Mivtachim Arena on Thursday night.
As a consequence of those injuries, Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos was only able to name a 10-man roster for the game and his management of the remaining personnel was further hindered when key backcourt man Scottie Wilbekin was severely slowed down by cramp in the final quarter.
Despite all those problems, however, Maccabi still managed to win the game, somehow overcoming its lack of bodies to get better and stronger as the game went on. After falling to a double-digit deficit in a first half which saw CSKA score 52 points, the Tel Avivians – roared on by a wildly enthusiastic home crowd – held the champs to just 28 points in the second half and scored the last 10 points of the game to seal a memorable 90-80 victory.
Although Coach Sfairopoulos acknowledged his team’s use of switching defense made a big difference to the second-half defensive turnaround, he believed other and more personal qualities were even more significant.
"The mentality of the players is important," he said. "They have a winning mentality which we have been building since last year. We have players who give everything to win and they want to win in the right way because we don't have selfish players. They played very smart and tonight we scored 90 points without four main players."
Sfairopoulos reacted to his absentees by calling upon his key remaining players to get through an enormous amount of work: Othello Hunter played 34 minutes and 42 seconds, Quincy Acy 33:06, Elijah Bryant 30:57 and Wilbekin 28:43, which would have been higher without those fourth-quarter cramps.
Hunter, of course, joined Maccabi in the summer after two years with CSKA and the coach sang the praises of a player he had previously worked with at Olympiacos.
"Othello is a winner and a guy you can count on," said Sfairopoulos. "He showed up, covered the absence of Tarik and showed that he has not only quality but also a big heart."
Sfairopoulos admitted his team will attempt to add new players in the coming weeks, but only if they are the right type of signings, saying: "We don’t want to bring players who don't fit with the team or to bring players just to bring players. They must have quality and all the ingredients this team has, which is not easy to find because the market is very tight."
Most importantly, and most pertinently for Thursday’s comeback win, Sfairopoulos underlined one necessary quality for his players. "Like me, they don't have the word 'tiredness' in their dictionary," he quipped.