Scottie Wilbekin didn’t want to let his team down and he didn’t want to let the fans of Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv down - after the club’s faithful were finally able to come out and pack the house at a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague game. Wilbekin scored 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter as a crowd of 11,192 at the Menora Mivtachim Arena pushed Maccabi to a come-from-behind 69-68 win over FC Bayern Munich in its season-opener.
"It feels great. I really didn’t want to lose the first game - with all the fans being here and the great start we had, probably because of the fans. I’m just happy we were able to pull through and get the win," said Wilbekin, who matched his career-high in scoring and was just one off his personal best in index rating with 32 against Bayern.
The boisterous supporters - anxious to finally scream their hearts out for their beloved Maccabi - helped Wilbekin and co. race out to a 17-point lead midway through the second quarter. That uncommon ringing in one’s ear really got Bayern coach Andrea Trinchieri emotional during the game.
"I have to say this was an amazing game. After two tough years, feeling a crowd like this is really a big thing," said the coach, who added: "Congratulations to Maccabi, to [Coach] Ioannis [Sfairopoulos] and to the crowd, because they were also a factor."
Bayern was able to slow down Maccabi - and lessen the roar of the fans over some 20 minutes spanning the second half of the second quarter and first parts of the final frame. The German side actually built up a 9-point lead with 6 minutes left in the game. But Maccabi’s defense fed off the energy of the crowd and allowed just 10 points in the fourth quarter, including just one three-pointer in the final 5 minutes.
"I’m very happy with how the fans came and supported us. A full gym after so long in the EuroLeague - it was a great feeling. And you saw in the last moments of the game with their voices how they helped the team to give more effort to get the win," Sfairopoulos said.
Of course it helps when you have someone like Wilbekin.
"He showed once again that he is the leader of this team," Sfairopoulos said of his scoring ace.
"We see it every day. Scottie is one of the best players in Europe, one of the best scorers in Europe. He can score on anybody, especially when he gets going," added Maccabi forward Derrick Williams. "We’re going to go as he goes. We all trust him to make the right plays, whether it’s shooting or passing."
Maccabi showed in its opening win a recipe that will get them some wins this season in the EuroLeague: a tough defense, an unstoppable scoring force in Scottie Wilbekin as well as an army of fans dressed in yellow who have been waiting for too long to push their team to wins.