Maccabi Tel Aviv’s dream European season ended with a rude awakening on Sunday
evening witha 78-70 defeat to Panathinaikos in the Euroleague final at the Palau
Sant Jordi Arena in Barcelona.
No one expected Maccabi to reach the Final
Four at the start of the season, but Sunday’s defeat was still bitterly
disappointing for the yellow- and-blue, which came tantalizingly close to
lifting a sixth continental title in club history.
Tel Aviv struggled to
display the thrilling basketball that had got it this far against Panathinaikos,
and despite remaining within striking distance of the Greeks until the final
seconds, it trailed throughout almost the entire game and never seemed to be in
control of its destiny.
Maccabi had no answer for Euroleague and Final
Four MVP Dimitris Diamantidis, who picked Tel Aviv apart time and again, and
Pana proved why its defense is regarded as one of the best in Europe by limiting
the yellow-andblue’s competition-best offense to just 36.9 percent (24 of 65)
from the field.
The Greeks held just a three-point lead (33-30) after a
nervy first half, but established a double-digit margin (54-43) by the end of
the third period and were never going to lose after Diamantidis opened a
gamehigh 61-47 gap with over seven minutes still remaining.
Maccabi coach David Blatt in his first Final Four appearance in the 2001/02
semis, Pana’s Zeljko Obradovic got the better of Tel Aviv once more, remarkably
winning his eighth ring, the last five with the Greens.
Blatt remained proud of his team after an unforgettable
“Panathinaikos was the justifiable winner in this final,” he
said. “For us I can say only that basketball is not Hollywood and not every
story has a happy ending. But it doesn’t make the story bad.
“No one gave
us a chance in the Final Four or even to win in the playoffs after the Top 16.
We just did great things all season. We put a team together that played hard,
wanted to win and have fun. Even if in the end we didn’t win, the story here was
very good for us.”
After shining in Friday’s semifinal win over Real
Madrid, Chuck Eidson was Maccabi’s best player once more on Sunday, leading the
team with 17 points and seven rebounds.
David Blu scored 14 and Jeremy
Pargo added 12 points and nine assists, but Maccabi was suffocated by the
Greeks’ swarming, scrappy defense, and was never going to win a game in which it
failed to score more than 15 points in each of the first three
Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Richard Hendrix, Milan Macvan and Lior
Eliyahu were held to a combined five points in the first 30 minutes, and with
such a minimal contribution from its big men, Tel Aviv was always kept on the
back foot and never gained control.
Panathinaikos, on the other hand, hit
62.1% (23 of 37) from two-point range, and despite converting just 14 of 24 free
throws and playing far from exciting basketball, looked like a team with the
experience of winning the title in 2007 and 2009.
Diamantidis led the
Greeks with 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds, with Mike Batiste scoring
18, Drew Nicholas adding 14 points and Romain Sato contributing 13
“Diamantidis was the MVP of the Euroleague and he sure played
like it today,” Blatt said. “He’s one of the great European players, maybe of
all time, because he impacts the game in so many areas and he does it seemingly
the right way all the time.
“He has calm in the face of battle that
allows him to see the game more slowly than the rest and to make better
decisions than the rest.”
Obradovic was understandably delighted with
another continental triumph.
“We had a bad first half, where we didn’t
hit open shots and played poorly, but we improved in the second half and
controlled the game until the last stretch, when we made some stupid turnovers
and allowed Maccabi to think that they could come back,” Obradovic said. “At the
end, I think we deserved to win, because we were excellent in clutch
After a tight start, Blu’s free-throws gave Maccabi its first
of only two leads in the game (13-11), but Panathinaikos answered with an 8-0
run and held a 22-15 margin after 10 minutes.
While Pana hit 10 of 13
two-point attempts in the first quarter, Tel Aviv scored just one of 10, but it
still had everything to play for at halftime, holding the Greeks to a mere 11
points in the second period to trail by just three (33-30) at the
Sofo’s first points of the evening gave Maccabi the lead (36-35)
at the start of the third quarter, but an 8-0 run, capped by two Sato threes,
put Pana in the driving seat yet again and another triple by the guard opened a
54-43 gap with 10 minutes to play.
The margin grew to 14 points (61- 47)
after Diamantidis’s points from the line, and despite never giving up, Maccabi
came no closer than four points (74-70) before falling to a heartbreaking
“We didn’t surprise ourselves at all by making it this far, so
not winning the trophy is disappointing,” Pargo said. “We wanted to win it and
believed we could.
“We’ll focus from now on the Israeli league and try to
finish this season in good style. We’re a team, and every time someone else
needs to step up or cover for the other that’s what we try to do, today as well,
but it just wasn’t our night.”