Comment: CSKA thwarts Maccabi TA three-peat

Move over Sergei Ivanov. Russia has a new minister of defense.

ettore messina 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
ettore messina 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
And he's an Italian no less - Coach Ettore Messina, whose CSKA Moscow team beat Maccabi Tel Aviv in Sunday's Euroleague final, in Prague, 73-69. Moreover, Moscow beat Maccabi and Coach Pini Gershon at its own game: preparation, preparation, preparation. The final score was 73-69, but it never felt that Maccabi had a chance against CSKA's brutal, aggressive defense, that allowed Europe's Most Valuable Player, Anthony Parker, only nine shots, the best passing big man in Europe, Nikola Vujcic, only one assist and caused Maccabi to turn over the ball 20 times - against only seven turnovers for the Muscovites. Messina - except for a minor cup game played way back in 1990 - has never lost to Maccabi wherever he has coached, and has now stretched his record against the Israeli champs to 13-0. Unlike TAU in the semifinals, his team was ready for every Maccabi offensive play, took advantage of every Maccabi weakness and made clutch free throws down the stretch when it counted. It could be that in a five or seven-game series - which is the way a professional championship should be played - Maccabi would make the necessary adjustments and come out on top; but, in the Euroleague's one-game winner-take-all situation, anything can happen. Perhaps Maccabi used up all its ammunition on Friday night when it exploded early on against TAU, but in this game it just didn't have it. Maccabi built an early a 7-0 lead but let CSKA back in the game midway through the first quarter and the Red Army team was basically in control for much of the remainder of the game. True, Maccabi scratched back on several occasions and even took the lead 58-56 on a Willie Solomon three-pointer with just under six minutes to go, but sloppy play and threes by Duke's Trajan Langdon, Matjaz Smodis and another key basket by unheralded David Vanterpool, gave CKSA a five-point lead. They then proceeded to hit seven of eight free throws in the last minute of the game, including two by Langdon with five seconds to go to put it away. Except for a courageous game by Maceo Baston, who set a Euroleague final record with 15 rebounds, most of the Maccabi players were nullified by the tough CSKA defense. Parker was double-teamed a good part of the night, CSKA cut off Vujcic's favorite passing lanes inside, Derek Sharp rushed his three-point shots and Solomon had an up and down night: He had a couple of clutch shots to keep Maccabi close in the fourth quarter but also had five sloppy turnovers and managed the clock poorly, rushing a shot at the end of the first quarter that enabled CSKA to get the ball back and grab a 20-18 lead, and some momentum, at the end of 10 minutes. The Pini Gershon era - if he is to be believed - seems to be about over, as he has so far made it clear that he intends on heading out to some sort of retirement (though I would guess that we will still hear from him wherever he may be). A big question mark also hangs over the future of the rest of this great Maccabi team. Tal Burstein and Vujcic are unsigned for next year; Yaniv Green (who didn't play at all) looks like he will not be back and Solomon seems questionable after an inconsistent season. Parker, Baston, Sharp and Jamie Arnold - not a bad nucleus - are certain to be back, and Maccabi will no doubt start building towards another European championship, but with a lot of new faces and, no doubt, a quieter coach.