Maccabi TA Partizan Belgrade 311.
(photo credit: MK Productions)
A dejected Maccabi Tel Aviv squad returned to Israel on Friday morning after seeing its Euroleague campaign come to an abrupt end the night before.
Partizan Belgrade completed a 3-1 quarterfinals series win with a 76-67 victory in Game 4, advancing to the Final Four in Paris where it will face Greece’s Olympiacos.
Maccabi fans had already begun booking their tickets for Paris after it became evident Tel Aviv would face Partizan in the quarterfinals with home-court advantage.
However, Maccabi squandered a 21-point lead in Game 1 on the way to a shock home defeat.
And despite tying the series with a victory at the Nokia Arena 48 hours later, could not rise to the challenge of winning in the Serbian capital and lost twice within three days.
Belgrade dominated both its home encounters in front of more than 20,000 fervent fans and coach Pini Gershon admitted the Serbs thoroughly deserved to advance to the Final Four.
“Partizan wanted it more than us,” he said. “Maybe we are not good enough to beat this kind of side on the road. We didn’t play like a team in the last two games. I think the better team won.”
Maccabi was down by just three points (55-52) with 10 minutes to play on Thursday.
However, the hosts outscored Tel Aviv 14-3 in the first five minutes of the fourth period and never looked back.
Partizan, which will play in the Final Four for the first time since 1998, has succeeded against all the odds. Coach Dusko Vujosevic is the man in charge of building the surprise team of the season and he deserves every credit for his work in Belgrade.
The eight-time defending Serbian champion, which has a budget of just 1.5 million euros, is forced to reinvent itself almost every season because it loses its top talents to Europe’s biggest clubs.
However, Vujosevic, who has been at the club since 2001, as well as coaching it between 1985 and 1989, managed yet again to assemble a talented roster built around homegrown players and his team will be the neutrals favorite in Paris.
“We’ve achieved fantastic success,” he said. “It is not easy to beat a great team like Maccabi headed by a big coach like Gershon twice in three days.
“Maccabi thought it was already in the Final Four after beating Real in Madrid. They were expecting an easy time against us. There was great tension and pressure on us, but my players were strong in all four games.
“This is a real big success for the players and for the club.
“We are going to the Final Four as the underdog, but that’s what we’ve been for the entire Euroleague season.”
A horrible shooting night combined with poor rebounding all but killed Maccabi’s chances of winning on Thursday and forcing a decisive Game 5 in Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv shot just 29.7 percent (11 of 37) from two-point range and 20.8% (5 of 24) from beyond the arc, with Alan Anderson, Chuck Eidson and David Bluthenthal the main culprits. The three Americans combined for a shocking 2-of-30 from the field, and with the yellow-and-blue being outrebounded 46-32, Gershon’s men had little hope of winning in Belgrade.
“We had an outstanding opportunity to reach the Final Four, but we
couldn’t do it,” Gershon said. “Partizan fought and ran and we had no
answers to their advantages. We are very disappointed because we had a
Andrew Wisniewski, who led Maccabi with 15 points, was bitterly
disappointed like the rest of his teammates. The American playmaker is
hoping to make amends next season, even though it remains to be seen if
he and several more of Tel Aviv’s players will still be with the side
in a year’s time.
“We are all heartbroken,” he said. “We disappointed a lot of people. We
really wanted to reach the Final Four. We came so close and this is a
huge miss. I hope to be here next year and succeed where we failed this
Maccabi will now concentrate on the BSL where it plays Bnei Hasharon next on Thursday.