(photo credit: AP)
Maccabi Tel Aviv must defeat CSKA Moscow in game two of their best-of-three quarterfinal playoff series at Nokia Arena on Thursday night to avoid elimination from the Euroleague.
However, and far more importantly, Maccabi will be looking to regain some of the pride it lost in Game 1 in Moscow against the reigning European champions.
Tel Aviv was embarrassed on Tuesday night when it lost 80-58 in a game that was already decided after 10 minutes.
After three straight appearances in Euroleague title games, Maccabi will in all likelihood not even make the Final Four this year. However, coach Neven Spahija is urging his players to at least extend their European campaign by one more week.
"It doesn't matter what happened in the first game," Spahija said. "We are going to take the good things from the game, and try to repeat them in the second. We hope to change things in front of our fans. I'm sure they will give us big support to help us play a better game.
"We still believe we can surprise CSKA. For me, they are the best team in Europe right now together with Panathinaikos. I will say they almost play at an NBA level. In sports, everything is possible, and in a playoff system, it doesn't matter if you lose the first game by five points or 25 points.
"We'll need to do different things on Thursday, but one thing that we'll have to improve on is not missing so many open shots. Our defense wasn't so bad. We just didn't score the open shots we had, and against CSKA you must give something extra in order to win and not play less than your average level, because then you have no chance to claim the victory."
CSKA coach Ettore Messina, who has never lost to Maccabi during his career, is keen to avoid complacency and has warned his players the series is far from over.
"Unfortunately, the fact that we won the game by 22 points does not mean a lot in the playoffs," Messina said. "We can lose by one in Tel Aviv, but it would mean the series would come back to Moscow for the third, decisive game. So I would like to warn our fans against sending us to the Final Four already.
"We prefer to take it game by game. It will be very difficult to play in Tel Aviv. I do not know why many people thought that the first game would be the key point in the series. There was talk all over Europe that Maccabi would put maximum effort into this first game. But I think that the most important game of the series is the third one."
Maccabi, which has reached six of the last seven Final Fours, will need a dramatic improvement from its entire roster to have any chance on Thursday.
Lior Eliyahu, who only scored two points on Tuesday, is one of the key players who will need to step up at Nokia Arena. "We played very poorly in the first game, but we have a chance to leave a better impression," he said.
"I hope that on our home court, things will be different. We have our fans that will come to see us [play in a Euroleague game] for the last time this season, and we owe them a worthy farewell. We must play with pride on Thursday night. CSKA is a better team, but everything is possible in one game, especially at Nokia Arena."