Maccabi TA Partizan Belgrade 311.
(photo credit: MK Productions)
Maccabi Tel Aviv arrived in Belgrade on Monday morning with its own rabbi to conduct its Pessah Seder, but with its thoughts fully focused on Game 3 of its Euroleague quarterfinals series against Partizan on Tuesday night.
Maccabi will hold a small Seder for team members and club staff on Monday night ahead of Tuesday’s crucial encounter at the Belgrade Arena, which is expected to be packed with more than 22,000 fans for Game 3 and Game 4, which is to be played on Thursday.
After throwing away a 21-point margin in Game 1 on the way to a heartbreaking defeat, Maccabi rebounded with an impressive 20-point victory at the Nokia Arena last Thursday. However, Tel Aviv still has to win at least one game in Serbia this week to have any chance of claiming the best-of-five series and reaching the Final Four in Paris.
Tel Aviv’s players have spoken confidently of winning one, if not both games in Belgrade, with the dramatic road victory over Real Madrid earlier this month clearly still fresh in their minds.
However, before the win in the Spanish capital, which guaranteed home-court advantage in the quarterfinals, Tel Aviv had won just two of seven games away from home in continental competition this season, beating only the mediocre Lottomatica Roma and Olimpija Ljubljana almost four months ago.
Nevertheless, Maccabi enters Game 3 with plenty of self-belief and coach Pini Gershon believes the pressure has now shifted to Partizan.
“In both games we had 20-point leads and Partizan has to prove that’s not the real difference and just how much home-court advantage counts,” he said.
“Now the pressure is on them, because in Belgrade it’s a whole different story. We played like men. It’s going to be hard for the players to forget what happened in Tel Aviv and that’s going to be our best mental preparation.”
Gershon feels Partizan’s fervent support will not be the decisive factor this week, especially with the Serbs moving the games from their compact Pionir Arena to the much larger Belgrade Arena.
“Home court isn’t enough for any side, as we saw in Barcelona and in Tel Aviv,” he said. “If we’re better by 20 points as we were in Game 2, and their arena and fans are worth 10-15 points, we should be fine. We need to win one game in Belgrade by one point.”
With both teams committing an almost identical number of turnovers and pulling down a similar total of rebounds so far in the series, the main differences between the first two games was Partizan’s three-point accuracy and Maccabi’s two-point shooting.
Belgrade, which was the worst three-point shooting team in the Top 16 (27.4%), hit 13 of 26 attempts in Game 1, before going just 6-of-19 two days later. Maccabi scored 28 of 39 (71.7%) from two-point range on Thursday, just 48 hours after going 17 of 40 (42.5%).
“It’s very hard to predict what’s going to happen in this series,” Partizan coach Dusko Vujosevic said. “Of course we’re going to fix the mistakes we made, but Maccabi has great qualities and it’s not going to be easy. We can be satisfied with a 1-1 tie after two games.”
Maccabi guard Andrew Wisniewski, who scored 17 points last Thursday in
what was one of his best games of the season, began his professional
career in the Serbian capital as a Red Star Belgrade player in 2004 and
is looking forward to a successful return this week.
excited to be back after six years,” Wisniewski said. “I played at the
Belgrade Arena several times and I know what kind of atmosphere to
expect. We’ll have to bring our game and play our basketball to win.
We’ll have to play like we did in Game 2 and in the first half of Game
“It’s easy to say we want to win both games in Belgrade to advance to the Final Four, but it is far more difficult to do it.”