Maccabi Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: NK Productions)
After last week’s impressive victory over Real Madrid, Maccabi Tel Aviv faces yet another must-win game when it hosts Efes Pilsen on Thursday night.
The 81-76 victory at Nokia Arena last week vaulted Maccabi back into quarterfinal playoff contention, but coach Pini Gershon understands that a home defeat will all but end his side’s hopes of extending its European season beyond the Top 16.
“We recorded a great win last week, but if we don’t win this week again, it’s as if we didn’t do anything,” Gershon said.
Maccabi plays Pilsen in Turkey two weeks after the Euroleague returns from a week-long break
Gershon described Tel Aviv and Efes as “two great teams, who came to this group as dangerous underdogs and now are hungry dogs after their good results in the first two games.”
Pilsen ended its regular season group with a poor 4-6 record, but like Maccabi, Ergin Ataman’s team has shown significant improvement in recent weeks.
After being edged 77-70 by Real in Spain two weeks ago, Pilsen beat Montepaschi Siena 88-78 in Turkey and once more believes in its chances to finish among the top two in Group F and progress to the last eight.
“Both Maccabi and Pilsen have begun to gel and enter the game with very good momentum,” Gershon said. “Whoever wins on Thursday will have a big advantage. Now it’s less about tactics and more about who wants it more. They have a very deep roster, and can be very dangerous both inside and outside the arc.
“Our fans will play a crucial part, because they help us so much when we need an energy boost.”
Maccabi’s accurate shooting and composed ball handling were two of the keys to last week’s win. The team hit 71.8 percent (23 of 32) of its shots from two-point range and turned the ball over just 10 times.
Just as important was the play of Alan Anderson and Chuck Eidson. Until last week the American duo had failed to play to potential simultaneously, but they combined for 38 points and 14 rebounds against Madrid, and finally complemented each other instead of canceling each other out.
“If we want to beat Efes we’ll need to play as well as we did last week, maybe even better,” said captain Derrick Sharp. “The path to the win is our defense. If we defend well we can beat any team. We won the last couple of games so certainly you can say we have a good momentum going.
“We made a lot of changes in the summer and it takes time for things to connect. Time helps us to develop better chemistry in the team. We’re in the second half of the marathon right now, and now we want to make a strong and good finish.”
Pilsen built a strong and deep roster in the off-season. Charles Smith (12.3 ppg) and Igor Rakocevic (11.8 ppg) are the team’s only players to average in double figures, but four more members of Ataman’s roster average between 7.8 and 9.7 points per game.
Preston Shumpert (9.7 ppg) and Bootsy Thornton (8.6 ppg) will be dangerous from the wings, with big-men Kaya Peker (9.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and Mario Kasun (7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg) the biggest threats under the baskets.
“We passed a very tough test against Montepaschi Siena last week, but we are now facing another very, very tough away game against Maccabi,” Kasun said.
“We are in good shape at the moment and we can handle the pressure in Tel Aviv. They have great fans and a great team.
“But we need to win to stay alive in the group. We will go there and try to do everything to win.”