Lior Eliyahu 390.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv can book its place in the Euroleague quarterfinals on Thursday
night, but it could just as easily find itself all but out of the competition
should results not go its way.
A Maccabi victory over Zalgiris Kaunas at
Nokia Arena combined with a Bennet Cantu loss to Barcelona will secure the
yellow-and-blue’s place in the last eight for the eighth time in the past nine
However, a Cantu win at home over the still perfect Barca will
seriously complicate Maccabi’s situation regardless of its result against
Tel Aviv visits Barcelona in an extremely difficult final Top 16
game next week and it will likely have to defeat the Catalans to secure its
progress should Cantu win on Thursday.
But to keep its fate in its own
hands it will first need to overcome Kaunas, which has lost all four of its Top
16 games to date.
“We are facing another critical game and there’s little
doubt that we are under pressure,” Maccabi coach David Blatt
“Zalgiris has yet to win a game in the group, but they were close
to winning in three of their four encounters. This is a dangerous and talented
team. They will give us a real fight.”
Blatt admitted that he is worried
about Cantu complicating matters for his team with a win over Barca, but he has
stressed to his players that they must focus on their job and only turn their
attention to Italy once they have beaten Kaunas.
“There is no point in
thinking about Cantu until we beat Zalgiris,” Blatt said. “We are experiencing a
long and exhausting season, but I tell my players that they are like the
gladiators and need to know how to compete every day and come out as
Maccabi beat Kaunas 84-76 in Lithuania in its Top 16 opener,
toughing out a tight fourth quarter.
Tel Aviv held Zalgiris star Sonny
Weems to a season-low two points, with the American, who is averaging 16.0
points and 5.2 rebounds for the season, to return to the lineup on Thursday
after missing the Euroleague loss to Barcelona.
Marko Popovic (12.6 ppg) will also be back in action in Tel Aviv after recovering
from a hamstring injury, a welcome boost for coach Aleksandar Trifunovic, who
believes his team can win on Thursday if it cuts out silly
“Looking back at our last four Euroleague games, we had three
of them in our hands, but we gave them away,” Trifunovic said. “The quality of
our game is there, but we commit too many mistakes, which we can’t afford on
Thursday in Tel Aviv.”
One of the surprises of the season for Maccabi has
been the play of Yogev Ohayon, who at one stage last summer even tried to get
out of his contract with the club due to its congested
However, against all odds, he has carved out a significant
role for himself and is entering Thursday’s game after arguably his best
performance of the season, scoring 20 points and dishing out eight assists in
Maccabi’s 104-100 overtime win at Hapoel Jerusalem on Sunday. “This is our most
important game of the season,” Ohayon said.
“Kaunas will come to fight
because this is their last chance. We too must win so it promises to be a tough
game. I believe we are ready for the game. Now we just have to show up and
implement what the coaching staff has preached to us in the past few days.”