After going back and forth, a series which is already regarded as one of the
greatest in European basketball history reaches its climax on Thursday night
when Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Panathinaikos in Athens in a showdown from which
the winner will advance to the Euroleague Final Four.
an opportunity to progress to a ninth Final Four in 13 years last Thursday,
leading by a point with 3:20 to play in the game before scoring just a single
basket until the end of the night and falling to a 78-69 defeat in Game
One of the reasons this quarterfinal series has been so memorable is
due to the fact that each game has unfolded in a very different manner, which
also makes Game 5 especially difficult to predict.
Maccabi was crushed by
20 points (93- 73) in the series opener at OAKA Arena before bouncing back to
claim an exceptional overtime win (94-92) to tie the series in
Tel Aviv staved off a Pao comeback to move 2-1 in front at Nokia,
but it now faces an extremely difficult do-or-die encounter in front of 18,000
Greek fans in Athens after running out of steam in the closing stages of Game
When taking everything into account, Maccabi will be entering
Thursday’s game against the defending European champion as a clear underdog, but
the yellow-and-blue does at least have a fresh memory of winning in Athens,
giving it some reason for optimism ahead of Game 5.
“The loss in Game 4
is behind us, there’s no point in crying about it,” Maccabi coach David Blatt
said. “We are completely focused on Game 5.
It’s crucial that we start
the game well, because there’s no doubt that they will come to the game with a
lot of enthusiasm – both the team and the crowd.
“Panathinaikos will try
to lock the game up from the beginning and pressure us, and we of course will do
everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
One of Maccabi’s
biggest problems in the series has been the play of its big men, in particular
The Greek giant has been a shadow of himself
against Pao, averaging an almost embarrassing 5.5 points and 1.0 rebound in 13
minutes on court.
Sofo was held scoreless in Game 4 for the first time
since joining Maccabi, snapping a 49-game Euroleague streak which stretched back
to his days at Olympiacos.
Maccabi found a way to win without an
effective Sofo in Games 2 and 3, but Blatt will surely be hoping to finally
receive a significant contribution from the center in Athens.
the game of the season in the Euroleague,” Blatt said. “It is the fifth game of
a series which has had it all. We need to enter the game with an aggressive
attitude and with full belief that we can win.
“We were obviously
disappointed after the home loss in Game 4, but every day since we have tried to
think how we can turn the series in our favor and therefore our belief has grown
with every day.
“The knowledge that we have won at OAKA Arena helps us.
But I think that everyone of the players and the staff will have to be at their
best if we are to win here again.”
On the defensive end, Maccabi’s focus
will likely be on Pao’s backcourt, and especially Dimitris Diamantidis, Sarunas
Jasikevicius and Nick Calathes.
Reigning Euroleague MVP Diamantidis and
fellow veteran Saras are unlikely to disappoint in such a critical encounter,
meaning Maccabi will probably put an extra emphasis on stopping
The 22-year-old has averaged 14.0 points and 6.0 rebounds in
the wins against Maccabi, but just 6.0 points and 3.0 boards in the two
“Everything that has happened in this series has given a lot of
people in Europe great entertainment and they are happy for another game,” said
Pao coach Zeljko Obradovic.
“There are people that have forgotten that
Panathinaikos is European champion. Some people already eulogized
Pao forward Kostas Tsartsaris echoed his coach’s
“Even though momentum is on our side we can’t think that we
have already progressed,” said Tsartsaris. “If we think that, Maccabi will
punish us. We are better than Maccabi, but we need to prove it on our
home court in front of our fans and we have 40 minutes to do so.”
guard Yogev Ohayon has made a name for himself in European basketball with his
performance in the quarterfinal playoffs so far (9.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.8
spg), but he was benched by Blatt late in Game 4, with the Maccabi coach instead
choosing to roll the dice with Demond Mallet, who didn’t even play in Game
Blatt looked like a genius after Mallet hit a three-pointer shortly
after he entered the court, but the American guard would miss two relatively
open triples in the subsequent minutes and the coach was criticized for not
sticking with Ohayon.
The 24-year-old Israeli is set to get all the
minutes he can handle on Thursday and his play will be crucial to his team’s
chances, as will the displays of fellow Israelis David Blu, Guy Pnini and Lior
Eliyahu, who have been largely disappointing in the series.
“We need to
start the game strong and stay in the picture, and from there we’ll see how the
game develops,” Eliyahu said. “The first minutes are especially
“Obviously, they will try to pressure us and they have
incredible support from their fans, but we simply need to stay focused. In this
fifth and deciding game we have to stay focused for the full 40 minutes.”