Maccabi Tel Aviv guard Yogev Ohayon (right) has stepped up his play in recent weeks and the yellow-and-blue will need him to be at his best yet again to have any chance of beating Real Madrid tonight in Euroleague action at Yad Eliyahu Arena..
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
With 17 wins from its past 18 games over all competitions, including three in a row in the Euroleague Top 16, Maccabi Tel Aviv is ready for its next challenge.
The yellow-and-blue’s Euroleague repeat aspirations will face perhaps their biggest test to date when Real Madrid comes to Tel Aviv on Thursday night in the first meeting between the two teams since last season’s Euroleague final.
Maccabi famously won that game 98-86 in overtime, with each team still having three starters from the final on its current roster.
While Maccabi has changed its head coach, with Guy Goodes replacing David Blatt, and has lost four key players from last season, Real is still guided by Pablo Laso and has eight senior players in all returning from 2013/14.
The continuity has resulted in an extremely consistent campaign to date, with Madrid winning its regular season group with an 8-2 record and currently leading Top 16 Group E at 4-0.
After beating Red Star Belgrade by seven in its Top 16 opener, Real has hit cruise control, defeating Galatasaray, Alba Berlin and Panathinaikos by 15, 18 and 18 points, respectively.
Madrid’s deep and balanced roster is yet again led by the Spanish quartet of Rudy Fernandez (11.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.3 apg), Felipe Reyes (11.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Sergio Rodriguez (11.0 ppg, 5.9 apg) and Sergio Llull (10.7 ppg, 5.1 apg).
“This is a Euroleague classic against a Maccabi side that kept its style and always tries to find the pieces that fit in,” said Real coach Laso. “Despite Blatt’s departure, Goodes has kept doing many of the same things. They don’t have Tyrese Rice, but they have Pargo, Ohayon, Smith, Schortsanitis and Tyus. They have a stable core and they kept their philosophy despite the departures.”
Demonstrating his intense scouting of Tel Aviv, Laso added: “Maccabi is an athletic team that generates turnovers and blocks,” he added.
“All their players are quick in defense and you always get the impression they are at the right spot. They are hard to stop on the fastbreak and I think it will be important not to let them run.”
Maccabi, meanwhile, is brimming with confidence after claiming a 79-76 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv in the derby on Monday, with the backcourt partnership of Jeremy Pargo and Yogev Ohayon once more playing a key role in the team’s triumph.
Pargo is averaging 13.0 points, 7.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the Top 16, while Ohayon has registered 7.0 points, 4.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds, as well as 1.8 steals and a mere 1.5 turnovers per game.
“I’ve been pleased with our intensity and seriousness and the way the players have worked hard in training recently,” said Maccabi coach Goodes. “The players are keeping their foot on the gas even when the going gets tough and that shows of maturity and character. We are facing a tough game against Real, who is even more talented than Barcelona, but we will be ready for a big battle for first place.”