Coming off four losses in a row, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv faced a virtual do-or-die game against visiting Valencia Basket on Thursday night. Another defeat would have meant a definitive goodbye to any playoff chances, and that possibility seemed even closer when the first half ended with a 33-35 deficit.
Despite that narrow margin, Maccabi didn't look good on the stat line. The Israeli champs had been dominated on the boards, allowing 10 offensive rebounds to Valencia while getting outrebounded 11-22 overall. What's more, Maccabi had scored just one three-pointer and the team's top scorer, Scottie Wilbekin, had headed the locker room scoreless.
But once the game restarted, things turned different and much better for the hosts. Maccabi scored 51 second-half-points and ended up outrebounding Valencia 32-29 to take a solid 84-72 victory that was like water in the desert for the Yellows.
The losing coach described Maccabi's transformation best.
"We competed well in this game, but when we lost control of the boards, the fight for the rebounds, they started to run, to make threes, to take control of the rhythm of the game," Valencia's Jaume Ponsarnau said.
Many of those points were second-chance points, as Maccabi scored 12 off the offensive glass while also getting 15 points off turnovers.
"I think we improved our rebounding in the second half. We had problems in the first half, they took 10 offensive boards then, but only 2 after halftime. The aggressiveness of our defense gave us stops and also good rhythm in offense," Maccabi boss Ioannis Sfairopoulos said. "We scored 18 points more in the second half because of our good defense."
Another key factor in Maccabi's win and overall good offensive performance was Tyler Dorsey. He didn't start but proved crucial for his team by showing up in key moments. He took over in the second quarter with 7 points in a row to help Maccabi keep breathing, then shined even brighter after halftime.
Dorsey drilled a timely three to abort Valencia's comeback late in the third period, sparking an 11-3 run in just 2 minutes that let Maccabi take a 62-56 advantage. In the fourth quarter, he hit a contested three-pointer and a buzzer-beating bank shot to keep Maccabi hot, then showed up again with free throws entering crunch time to seal the outcome.
"I just played hard. We needed to win, we were in a negative moment lately, and it feels good to get a win. You never know what is going to happen, our back is against the wall, so we need to get every win we can," Dorsey said.
His contribution was even more relevant if we consider that Wilbekin could not deliver any points, which had only happened once this season so far. But Dorsey made up for it, making Sfairopoulos happy.
"I try to use all the players. I saw which players were in a better rhythm and those are the ones I used," Maccabi's head coach stated. "I believe in the roster and the players we have."