Euroleague Basketball: Mac Attack pumped for Partizan

Cautious optimism abounds ahead of yellow-and-blue’s quarterfinal clash with Belgrade.

By
March 23, 2010 10:16
4 minute read.
Alan Anderson.

Alan Anderson Maccabi TA 311. (photo credit: MK Productions)

 
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After advancing to the Euroleague quarterfinals against all odds, Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to prove it can win as a favorite when its hosts Partizan Belgrade in the teams’ quarterfinals series opener at the Nokia Arena on Tuesday night.

Maccabi entered the Top 16 with little hope of making it through to the last eight, but ended it with a stunning 66-64 road victory over Real Madrid to finish first in Group F and secure home-court advantage in the best-of-five last eight playoffs.

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Tel Aviv’s home form was the key to its Top 16 success, with the perennial Israeli champion winning all three of its games at Nokia. Pini Gershon’s men defeated Madrid, Efes Pilsen and Montepaschi Siena, but needed a late surge in each of the encounters to secure the victory.

Thanks to its home-court advantage and superior roster, Maccabi enters Tuesday’s game, and the series as a whole, as a clear favorite. However, Gershon has no intention of taking Partizan lightly and squandering a superb and unexpected opportunity to reach the Final Four in Paris.

“Partizan has already beaten Barcelona and Panathinaikos and we haven’t proven that we can beat teams at that level yet, so I don’t see how we can underestimate them,” Gershon said. “We worked hard to get the home court advantage and we’re not going to give it up easily.”

Partizan is playing in the quarterfinal playoffs for a third straight season, but hasn’t reached the Final Four since 1998. This is mainly due to the fact that the eight-time defending Serbian champion is forced to reinvent itself almost every season after selling-off its top talents to Europe’s biggest clubs.

This campaign has been no different, with Partizan coach Dusko Vujosevic – who has been at the club since 2001 as well as coaching it between 1985 and 1989 – once again managing to assemble a talented roster built around homegrown players.

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Partizan seemed to have no chance of making it this far after being drawn in a Top 16 group with defending champion Panathinaikos and title favorite Barcelona.

However, the Serbs, who ended the regular season with a mediocre 5-5 record, stunned Europe by defeating Panathinaikos on the road in their Top 16 opener before handing Barca its only loss of the Euroleague season to date the following week.

Belgrade has rarely convinced on the road this season, winning just two of eight games away from the Pionir Arena. However, Maccabi will be wary of the fact that those two wins came against a strong Unicaja Malaga team and the reigning champion.

“Our fans have helped us to find energy during the season and we’ll especially need that against such a difficult defensive team as Partizan,” said Gershon.

“It’s not going to be a walk in the park and even if we win the first game by a big margin, in 48 hours we’ll need to bring the same efforts and energies to make it happen once again. A win in Game 1 is important but far from a reason to celebrate.”

Maccabi hosts Game 2 on Thursday before visiting Belgrade for Game 3 next Tuesday and a possible Game 4 on Thursday.

If necessary, the fifth and decisive encounter will be played back at Nokia the following week.

Several of Partizan’s players are set to become big stars in the coming years, but one who is already being courted by many of the continents top clubs is 2.11-meter center Aleks Maric. The 25-year-old has averaged 14.9 points and 9.6 rebounds this season, amassing five double-doubles along the way.

Just as Maric is the key to Belgrade’s play under the baskets, Bo McCalebb is the vocal point of its backcourt. The aggressive point guard, who has averaged 13.0 points and 3.3 assists, is one of only two American players on the roster, with forward Lawrence Roberts another important member of the team, averaging 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.

“Maccabi has a stronger team, with more quality players than we have,” said coach Vujosevic, whose side led the Top 16 in rebounding.

“But hope is a real thing. If we did not have hope, we would never have reached the last eight. We started this season’s Euroleague competition with a lot of new players. We had bad luck at the draw for the first phase and for the Top 16. Nobody believed we could reach the playoffs. This is a real big success.”

Maccabi big man Stephane Lasme will be facing his former team for the first time since he left in the summer and will be hoping to continue his recent improvement on Tuesday night.

Lasme has averaged 11 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in Tel Aviv’s last two games, teaming-up superbly in the paint with D’or Fischer.

Another player who has seen his role grow with every week that has passed is Doron Perkins. While Andrew Wisniewski continues to start for Maccabi, Perkins has taken over the playmaking responsibilities in the closing stages of Tel Aviv’s recent games, averaging 11.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, but also 3.0 turnovers in the team’s last three encounters.

“We’re coming to the game against Partizan in good spirits and very focused,” Perkins said. “Since I came to Maccabi, every game has been ‘the most important game,’ but it’s clear that now we are at the money-time. There is pressure, but we are coming to play our game and I hope we continue to play well and win.”

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