It's been quite a roller-coaster for Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv this season. The Israel champs have only minimal chances of reaching the EuroLeague Playoffs this season. Maccabi is ranked 14th with an 11-16 record – and five wins fewer than eighth-placed Zenit St Petersburg with seven games left to play. It could have gone so different for Maccabi, which was ranked fourth in the standings last season when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancelation of the 2019-20 season. With a returning core and the additions of several key players, fans in Tel Aviv had, justifiably, high hopes.
Make no mistake, Maccabi has played better than its record would indicate. In fact, no team in EuroLeague history has lost as many close games as Maccabi has this season. Ten of Maccabi's 16 losses have come by 5 points or less, which is two more than Brose Bamberg had in fewer games in 2016-17. That means Maccabi has lost by 5 or fewer points in 37.0 percent of its games, which is the highest percentage by any team under the current full-season EuroLeague format.
Unlike last season, when Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos's men had a winning record (5-4) in games decided by up to 5 points, this season they have won only four such games alongside those losses.
What's more, Maccabi led in the fourth quarter in seven of those 10 close losses and in each of them, the opponent scored what proved to be the winning point in the final 30 seconds, including three times in the game's dying seconds.
First, it was Aaron Harrison with a three-pointer on the buzzer for Olympiacos Piraeus in Round 4. In Round 10, Maccabi had possession in a tie game against Valencia Basket to shoot a potential game-winner, but Bojan Dubljevic stole the ball and fed Sam Van Rossom for the game-winning layup with 2.9 seconds remaining. In the following round, Malcolm Delaney hit a mid-range jumper with 3.6 seconds left in overtime to lift AX Armani Exchange Milan to victory in Tel Aviv. In another overtime loss, Maccabi led by 2 against Olympiacos in Round 19, but fouled Kostas Sloukas, who tied the game from the line with 2.9 seconds remaining and the Reds prevailed in the extra session.
Another measure of Maccabi's snake-bitten season can be seen from what is known as the Pythagorean theorem of basketball, which claims that a team's win-loss record should mesh with its points scored and allowed numbers. In other words, teams that have outscored their opponents over a full season should have winning records and vice-versa. As of a week ago, Maccabi had outscored its opponents by 7 points, which was 10th best in the league, but was 14th in the standings with four more losses than wins. Even following last week's 18-point defeat at the hands of Panathinaikos OPAP Athens, Maccabi's plus/minus is better than three teams ahead of it in the standings.
All of which is to say that upon closer look, Maccabi has played better than its record shows this season, even though that information is probably of little comfort to the team's players, coaching staff and fans.