Maccabi Tel Aviv poised for first real test at old nemesis CSKA

Maccabi beat Limoges of France 92-76 in its regular-season opener last week and improved to 3-0 in the BSL with Monday’s 80-72 win at Hapoel Eilat.

Bracey Wright   (photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Bracey Wright
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Five months after claiming a memorable win over CSKA Moscow in the Final Four semifinals, and eight months after the Russians handed it one of its heaviest defeats ever, Maccabi Tel Aviv faces CSKA once more in Euroleague action on Thursday night.
Maccabi trailed from the third minute of last season’s Final Four semi in Milan until there were just 5.5 seconds left on the clock, including by as many as 15 points late in the third quarter.
However, Tyrese Rice’s drive to the basket with 5.5 seconds remaining gave Maccabi a 68-67 win and the yellow-and-blue overcame Real Madrid in overtime in the final on the way to a sixth European title.
Three months earlier, the yellow- and-blue was crushed 100- 65 by CSKA in Moscow, its third-heaviest defeat in club history and the biggest since it was trounced by 47 points by Real Madrid in January 1976.
Maccabi was without both Devin Smith and Alex Tyus for that game, and the two Americans will also miss Thursday’s contest through injury.
“This is one of the toughest games we face in the regular season,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes. “We are playing a very strong team which held on to most of its star players. This is a big challenge. We are playing without both Devin and Tyus and we will have to be very composed.
We need to be mentally strong and dictate our style of play or it could be a repeat of our last game there.”
Maccabi beat Limoges of France 92-76 in its regular-season opener last week and improved to 3-0 in the BSL with Monday’s 80-72 win at Hapoel Eilat.
CSKA impressed in an 84-68 victory at Alba Berlin last week, with Sasha Kaun leading six players in double figures with 16 points.
“Maccabi is the defending champion, one of the biggest teams in European competitions which always has high expectations,” said new CSKA coach Dimitris Itoudis, who will have to manage on Thursday without Victor Khryapa and Demetris Nichols.
“Maccabi went through some changes but they continue to play high-quality basketball. [It] runs the floor, executes on primary and secondary fastbreaks, and has a number of shooters like Smith, Pnini, Landesberg, Haynes and Linhart. Pargo is also shooting well this season and he is really important for the team.
“The team is well balanced, it can spread the floor and is able to play an effective inside-outside game. We are certainly improving and our main task for now is to play consistently for longer stretches during the game.”
Despite his insistence otherwise, Thursday’s showdown will be especially significant for Jeremy Pargo, who joined Maccabi from CSKA during the summer.
The 28-year-old American guard averaged just 5.0 points in a mere 15.4 minutes per game in the Euroleague for CSKA last season and departed the team under a cloud of tension.
“I want to win the game. I don’t really care about what happens other than that,” Pargo said on Wednesday. “We have got to do it as a team and hopefully we can play better than we have been doing.”