Euroleague Basketball: Gershon wary of off-form CSKA

Euroleague Basketball G

By ELIE LESHEM
November 5, 2009 06:28
4 minute read.
basketball CSKA 248 88

basketball CSKA 248 88. (photo credit: )

 
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When Maccabi Tel Aviv takes the floor in a classic Euroleague showdown with arch-rival CSKA Moscow at the Nokia Arena on Thursday there will be much more at stake than just a win against a European powerhouse. Maccabi has a lot in its court, not all of it basketball related, and a positive outcome in Thursday's match-up could go a long way towards easing some of the club's troubles. Besides diverting some public attention from the Moni Fanan scandal, the most obvious outcome of a win will be to give the yellows a breath of fresh air and propel them forward for a great head start in the race for a first-place finish in their Euroleague group. And if at the beginning of the season the common wisdom was that Maccabi did not have the kind of tools to vouchsafe a solid chance of coming out on top in a group that included both CSKA and Caja Laboral Vitoria, at this point, two rounds into the tournament, some of the pundits have been scratching their heads. Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said he is wary of CSKA, even though his opponent has not had a good start to its European season. The Russians only managed to clinch a home win at the buzzer against Maroussi and was then beaten at home 74-69 by Lottomatica Roma. "CSKA in any roster is a strong and dangerous team. I don't remember the last time they lost the first two games in the Euroleague, so obviously it makes our job more difficult," Gershon told the Euroleague Web site. After its away loss in Vitoria last week, Maccabi will want to prove to its home crowd that it is capable of collecting a win against a team like CSKA. But in order to do so, the home team will first have to show that it is capable of improving its presence in the paint on both sides of the court. And poor rebounding is only part of the story. Last week's game - the first half in particular - was a sore reminder of Maccabi's unresolved woes on the defensive end of the floor, with wide-open dunks served up on far too many occasions by Vitoria's Tiago Splitter and Lior Eliyahu. But the fault falls not only on the softness of the big men. If the yellow and blue is to come away victorious, Maccabi's perimeter players have to pull together, be more aggressive in attacking the pick and roll and prevent CSKA's guards from penetrating into the paint. To this end, two players who should earn some minutes in Thursday's game are Stephane Lasme and Raviv Limonad, whose entry in the second half in Vitoria marked a significant improvement in Maccabi's ability to lock up the lane. On the attacking end, Maccabi will try to get its big men more involved, because a shooting display like the one it put on last week, with 14 threes out of 28 attempts, is not likely to repeat itself. Gershon will have to find a way to return to his offensive comfort zone, which means setting up a lot of high percentage shot attempts at close range. Previous incarnations of Maccabi under Gershon led the Euroleague in two-point shot percentages on a consistent basis. Compare that to last week, when Maccabi shot more threes than twos and made a paltry 40 percent of its attempts from inside the arc. Running the floor from the tipoff should achieve this, along with activating Maccabi's one distinct advantage in the game - the crowd. Moscow, a finalist in last year's competition, has not been showing the quality of play that made it one of the top three European clubs of the past decade - alongside Maccabi and Panathinaikos Athens - with two titles in four years and a string of seven consecutive Final Four appearances. Over the summer the Red Army club was forced to tighten its belt in the wake of the global economic crisis. It decided not to renew legendary coach Ettore Messina's contract, installing the relatively untested Evgeny Pashutin in his stead for his first stint at the helm of a Euroleague-caliber squad. A number of key players were also let go, including versatile big man Erazem Lorbek. CSKA's already weakened roster was further depleted with the injury of Slovenian forward\center Matjaz Smodis, who usually provides a degree of toughness under the boards, as well as a more than solid outside shot. But Gershon noted that the Moscow squad retains several significant strengths. "They still have champion players such as [Ramunas] Siskauskas, [J.R.] Holden, [Trajan] Langdon and more, so I don't recommend that anyone underestimate them," he said. "We are playing in our home arena, and need to get back on the winning track." Moscow guard Anton Ponkrashov, a member of the Russian national team, said he was familiar with Gershon's approach. "I know Pini Gershon's style very well, because [former Maccabi Tel Aviv assistant coach] David Blatt uses some of its elements in the Russian national team," he said. "The team demonstrates fast basketball… I expect the game to be interesting and difficult."

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