Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul arrived in Israel on a dangerous three-game losing streak and things didn't look well early against Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv. The hosts led 15-10 and Scottie Wilbekin was at the foul line to shoot 3 free throws and make it 18-10. Coach Igor Kokoskov looked for answers on offense and brought Ali Muhammed off the bench. Muhammed, a EuroLeague champion with Fenerbahce in 2017, is far from being done at age 37 and proved it with an excellent performance.
He needed just 21 seconds to fire in his first shot from downtown. In Fenerbahce's second offense with him on the court, Muhammed buried another three-pointer. All of a sudden, Fenerbahce had cut its deficit in half, 22-18, at the end of the third quarter. Another triple by Muhammed ignited an 0-8 run that gave Fenerbahce its first lead, 24-26.
Muhammed nailed his fourth three-pointer before halftime and then rattled in a fifth - in as many attempts - early in the fourth quarter, which happened to be a critical moment in the game. Melih Mahmutoglou followed that with his second hit from beyond the arc to give Fenerbahce a 54-62 cushion. Maccabi did not recover after that; even though Fenerbahce missed its last three-point shots, Dyshawn Pierre stepped up in crunch time, scoring all of his 7 points in the final minutes to make sure his team went back home with a win.
"Coach, before the game, he prepared us, and he told us to take this game personal, which is why I got on my guys and I told them 'let's get this game personal.' And that's what we did," Muhammed said right after that game. "We came out, played tough, played great defense and we won."
Three-point shots and free throws made the difference in this game. Fenerbahce downed 11 of 22 shots from downtown (50.0%), limiting Maccabi to just 5-of-26 three-point shooting (19.2%). Maccabi hit 10 of 15 free throws (66.6%) and Fenerbahce was near-perfect from the foul line, 12 of 13 (92.3%). De Colo made 7 to stay perfect this season on 29 trips to the line and lift his career percentage to 94.21% (798 of 847).
That accuracy allowed Fenerbahce to make up for losing the battle of the boards. The Israeli champs outrebounded Fenerbahce 44-30. Maccabi's 21 offensive boards almost matched a club record. It had 22 offensive rebounds in a 90-83 win against Real Madrid on November 9, 2017, and previously had 21 in an 88-79 victory against Panathinaikos OPAP Athens on December 19, 2019.
Muhammed finished the game with 17 points, his best EuroLeague scoring output since Game 4 of the 2019 playoffs against Zalgiris Kaunas. More important, Fenerbahce found its identity on defense, limiting Maccabi to 65 points and just 27 after the break.
"We didn't have a good start, but found the way to get back in the game and fight for 40 minutes," Kokoskov said after the game. "Perseverance, that is one of the things that we believe in as a group."