Moral victories don't count in the win column but Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade finally grabbed a much-needed triumph to forget about what-ifs and stay in the hunt for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague playoffs.
Zvezda snapped a four-game losing streak and a stretch of eight defeats in nine games by showcasing its outside air attack in a 92-76 win at home over Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv. Billy Baron and Kevin Punter both scored 22 points and combined for 9 of Zvezda's 13 three-pointers as the Serbian club drained 56.5% from long range to raise its record to 11-17.
Two wins behind eighth place, it's a stretch to say Zvezda is back in the playoffs race, but it's certainly in the hunt. And Zvezda can go into the final six games relieved about having remembered how to win the kind of game that was almost in its grasp, but not quite, other times this season.
"We've let a couple of games slip away during the season," Baron said. "Even when we played at [Maccabi's] place, we had a chance to win at the end. It was good to make up for some of those games that we lost."
In the 1-8 span coming into Friday's game, Zvezda had lost five times by six points or fewer, including a Round 27 defeat earlier in the week at Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. Zvezda actually led 62-63 in that one, but then committed 6 turnovers in the final 3 minutes to lose 66-63.
"We played really good in Istanbul, too, but we made a couple of turnovers at the end. And that probably cost us the close win there," said Vladimir Stimac, who picked up 12 points and 12 rebounds against Maccabi.
Zvezda's chances to reach the playoffs are not great, starting at Real Madrid for Round 29. But then Dragan Sakota's team hosts AX Armani Exchange Milan and Zenit St. Petersburg with road games at Olympiacos Piraeus, FC Bayern Munich and Valencia Basket. Milan, Olympiacos and Valencia all currently have 12 victories, just one more than Zvezda, while Bayern and Zenit are the bottom two teams in the league.
It remains to be seen whether a strong showing against Maccabi could go a long way for Zvezda.
"We played like a team today and if everybody does their job we are going to win the game - no doubt about it. This is a team [Maccabi] favored to reach the Final Four and we showed today that we can play with them with no problem and I hope that we have many more games like this," added Stimac.
This win was much, much more than just a moral victory.