Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Guy Goodes.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
While Tuesday night only marks the start of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s best-of-five Euroleague quarterfinal series against Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, there is a strong belief among the yellow-and-blue management and coaching staff that the berth to the Final Four may already be decided by the outcome of Game 1.
The first two games in the series will be played in Turkey, as well as a possible Game 5, and when taking into account the obvious difficulty of winning three straight contests in a series, Maccabi’s best chance of reaching the Final Four seems to rest on it snatching homecourt advantage in Game 1 and completing the job at Yad Eliyahu Arena next week.
Game 2 will be played in the Turkish capital on Thursday, with Games 3 and 4 (if necessary) to take place in Tel Aviv on April 20 and 22. A decisive Game 5 will be held in Istanbul on April 28, should it be required.
Maccabi will be hoping to follow the blueprint of last season’s triumph over Olimpia Milano, when it won Game 1 of the quarterfinals on the road on the way to a 3-1 series victory before going on to claim a surprise sixth European crown in the Final Four.
Since 2005 when the playoff format was introduced in the Euroleague quarterfinals, Maccabi has reached the Final Four five times. Tel Aviv had homecourt advantage in the first three occasions before improbably winning three straight games in a best-of-five series against Vitoria in 2010/11.
Maccabi needed a win at Alba Berlin in its final Top 16 game last week to even secure its place in the last eight, doing so for a sixth straight year.
“We just have to go there and do our best to win a game,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes on Monday. “We played an excellent game in Berlin to reach the playoffs and the guys are aware of the magnitude of the task they are facing. I’m sure they will give their all to reach the Final Four which is the showcase event of European basketball that everyone wants to reach.”
Fenerbahce is returning to the playoffs for the first time in seven years, but it certainly believes it can dethrone the defending champion.
With eight-time Euroleague winner Zeljko Obradovic on the bench and former champ Nikos Zisis running the offense, the Turks have the required experience, and have shown promising form throughout their European campaign.
Fenerbahce went 8-2 in the regular season, losing to Panathinaikos in Athens and at home to Barcelona while stunning the Spanish powerhouse on the road. Obradovic’s team went 11-3 in the Top 16, losing two of its first three games to CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos before reeling off nine straight victories to finish second behind CSKA.
Obradovic and Maccabi go back a long way, with the Serb overcoming the yellowand- blue on the way to five of his record eight titles. The last time Obradovic and Maccabi squared off was in a classic quarterfinal playoff series in 2012 which was won in five games by his team Panathinaikos.
Obradovic has built a balanced roster, with four players averaging double figures.
Andrew Goudelock leads the team in points (16.7 ppg) and minutes (29.2 mpg) and has established his place as one of the Euroleague’s best threepoint shooters, making a competition high 62 triples so far this season at an impressive 47.7 percent.
Nemanja Bjelica (12.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg), Bogdan Bogdanovic (11.0 ppg), Jan Vesely (10.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Zisis (4.0 ppg, 3.5 apg) help make up the core of the side, which lost former Maccabi guard Ricky Hickman for the season through injury last month.
“We played all season to be in this situation, to be able to go to the Final Four,” Obradovic said. “We play against a great club, a great team and with great tradition. They have six Euroleague titles. But I also think it is normal for us to believe in our chances.”
Maccabi will be hoping Devin Smith can build on his recent excellent play and carry the yellow-and-blue once more after scoring a careerhigh 28 points in last week’s win over Berlin.
“We’re aware how important this series is, and we’re going there prepared to fight for every game,” he said. “I feel we’re definitely ready for this stage. We have to be aggressive on the floor, and we have to want it more. The professional staff has done a great job of giving rest to those who needed it, both physically and mentally.
They’ve definitely prepared us very well, and now our job is to go out there and execute on the court.”