(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Despite reaching the Euroleague Final Four against all odds, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach David Blatt said the yellowand- blue will enter European basketball’s showcase event with the goal of claiming the title.
Maccabi will play in the Final Four for the first time since 2011, making just its second appearance in six years, after recording an emphatic 86-66 victory over Olimpia Milano at Nokia Arena on Wednesday night, wrapping up a 3-1 series win.
Milano held the lead for much of the first three periods, including by as many as 10 points (43- 33) at one stage.
The Italians were still in front (56-54) entering the final 10 minutes, but Maccabi seized control with a 15-3 run, ultimately outscoring Milano 32-10 in the fourth quarter.
Maccabi can now sit back on Friday night and watch CSKA Moscow and Panathinaikos battle it out in a decisive Game 5 in Russia, with the winner to face Tel Aviv in the Final Four semifinals at the Mediolanum Forum in Milan on May 16.
The yellow-and-blue has already played both CSKA and Panathinaikos twice this season.
Moscow beat Maccabi both home-and-away in the Top 16, including by 35 points in Russia, while Tel Aviv defeated Panathinaikos in both of their regular season contests, including in Athens.
Blatt admitted that CSKA would be a far tougher opponent in the semis, but insisted that Maccabi can beat the Russians and is still not content despite making an unexpected run to the Final Four.
“We are going to the Final Four with the aim of winning, not just to make up the numbers,” said Blatt. “The Final Four format gives the underdog an advantage.
There should be no doubt that we are entering the Final Four as a Cinderella team.
“However, we have proven this year that we can beat any team.
Even when we lost to Real Madrid and CSKA, we were there and could have won. We are not better than any of these teams but we can compete with them.”
Maccabi got off to its worst ever start in the BSL this season, suffered its heaviest home defeat in history in any competition and stuttered into the Euroleague quarterfinals after winning just four of its final 10 Top 16 contests.
But despite Maccabi’s struggles throughout the season, Blatt claimed he always believed in his team.
“We had to rebuild the roster and at Maccabi it takes time for the team to gel,” said Blatt, who added that he can’t remember the last time he took a day off or slept well at night.
“We worked methodically and quietly throughout the season believing we could achieve something special.”
Blatt, who was reportedly on the verge of being sacked during the season, said he wants to remain at the club, but only if he receives a contract extension.
Blatt’s current contract runs until the end of next season, but both he and the club have the option of opting out at the end of this campaign.
“I want to stay but it takes two to tango and I don’t want to be a lame duck coach again next year,” he explained. “I don’t forget that when times were tough they supported me and I appreciate that. As long as there is a will on both sides I’m not going anywhere.”