For many months, this season seemed destined to end in David Blatt being kicked out of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
However, 2013/14 may well be remembered as Blatt’s crowning moment at Maccabi should the yellowand- blue complete an unlikely run to the Euroleague Final Four by defeating Olimpia Milano in Game 4 of the best-of-five quarterfinal series at Nokia Arena on Wednesday night.
Maccabi got off to its worst ever start in the BSL this season, suffered its heaviest home defeat in history in any competition and stuttered into the Euroleague quarterfinals after winning just four of its final 10 Top 16 contests.
However, a victory over Milano on Wednesday will see it reach the Final Four for the first time since 2011, making just its second appearance in six seasons, with Maccabi also set to secure the No. 1 seed in the BSL playoffs next week, ensuring it will enter the local postseason as the favorite to regain the league title.
It is hard to make sense of Maccabi’s season so far, unless of course you consider Blatt’s track record and his ability to create a winning team from mediocre talent.
Apart from last season’s tight loss in the one-game win-all BSL final to Maccabi Haifa, the yellow-and-blue has won every local competition it has contested in six seasons under Blatt as head coach (2001-2003, 2010-2014).
His record in Europe is also nothing to be ashamed of, with Maccabi making a surprise run to the Euroleague final in 2010/11 before losing in the quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons at the hands of the powerful Panathinaikos and Real Madrid.
Tel Aviv may well have also been sent packing in the last eight this season had it not been facing a vulnerable Milano.
However, any temptation to disregard Milano as an average Euroleague side should be cast aside by the fact the Italians ended Top 16 Group E in second place ahead of Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, beating both Greek powerhouses, as well as the superb Barcelona, on the way to the quarters.
It is a testament to Blatt’s capabilities and character that he became the first coach since Tzvika Sherf in the 1980’s to start four straight seasons at Maccabi.
For much of the season, it seemed that the only way Blatt would not be leaving in the summer was if he were sacked beforehand.
However, the 54-year-old Boston native weathered the storms at the club once more and may after all be back for the final year of his contract, with the yellowand- blue exactly where he wants it to be at the business end of the season.
Time and again, Blatt has been forced to rebuild teams almost from scratch at the start of the campaign due to Maccabi’s financial inability to retain the services of its better players.
That means he requires much of the first half of the season just to find a winning formula, but he has always managed to do so by the decisive stage of the year, a fact which seems to be lost on his detractors, both in and out of the club, when the team loses a game.
Rest assured that should Maccabi suffer defeat on Wednesday, the blame will be placed on Blatt. The credit he’ll receive should the team win and reach the Final Four will pale in comparison.
But Blatt will not be thinking about any of that ahead of Game 4. He has a job to do and needs to make sure his team keeps punching above its weight. If he can prove a few doubters wrong along the way, that would just be gravy.