Hickman and James of Maccabi Tel Aviv 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
After progressing to the Euroleague quarterfinals with a comeback for the ages, Maccabi Tel Aviv will leave for Spain on Monday ahead of Game 1 of its best-of- five series at Real Madrid on Wednesday.
Despite entering the series without home-court advantage, Maccabi is brimming with confidence after advancing to the last eight following a 2-5 start to the Top 16.
Maccabi dropped to an 8- 6 record in Group F with Thursday’s 74-71 loss at Barcelona, but qualified for the quarters thanks to Olympiacos’s win over Khimki Moscow and will return to Spain on Monday ahead of Games 1 and 2 against Real on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
Games 3 and 4, if necessary, will be played in Tel Aviv next week, with Game 5, should it be required, to take place in Madrid the following week.
“We never lost hope, even when we were in a tough situation,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “We showed our character, represented the club’s spirit and fully deserved our place in the playoffs. We showed Europe what Maccabi is all about. Madrid is one of the strongest teams in Europe, if not the strongest, and we will be entering this series as the underdog.”
Real finished Top 16 Group E in second place (10-4) after thrashing Efes Istanbul 86-66 on Thursday, snapping a three-game losing streak, following a 9-1 start to its campaign.
“We have seen Maccabi play, they are a deep team that like to open the floor,” said Real coach Pablo Laso.
“The calendar does not allow you to take breaks, playoffs are round the corner.
The fact that we will have home-court advantage in the playoffs is an extra reward for us.”
Maccabi’s Devin Smith, who capped a superb Top 16 with 16 points in the defeat to Barcelona, can’t wait for the playoffs to begin.
“We worked really hard to turn our season around,” Smith said. “The coaches instilled belief and I’m happy we replied with a wonderful comeback. The team’s togetherness made the difference in the second round of the Top 16 and we now need to make sure we are ready for Real.”