Euroleague Basketball: It’s crunch-time for Maccabi Tel Aviv

TA must beat Partizan Belgrade to maintain any realistic hope of reaching the Final Four.

Less than 48 hours after a nightmare of a fourth quarter saw it relinquish home-court advantage in the Euroleague quarterfinals, Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to beat Partizan Belgrade at the Nokia Arena on Thursday night to maintain any realistic hope of reaching the Final Four.
Despite leading by as many as 21 points in the first half, and by some 15 midway through the third period, Maccabi dropped to a disappointing 85-78 home loss to Belgrade in Game 1 of the best-of-five series on Tuesday, seriously complicating its chances of reaching European basketball’s premier event.
Tel Aviv will now have to win at least one of next week’s two games in Belgrade to have a reasonable chance of progressing to the Final Four, but first will need to make sure it ties the series with a victory on Thursday.
According to coach Pini Gershon, his players are still very confident of getting the better of Belgrade.
“When I entered the locker room after the loss and told the players that we still have four more games to play in the series, they said ‘we will win it in three’,” Gershon revealed. “They are optimistic and that’s fine by me.”
Everything seemed to be going Maccabi’s way in the first half of Game 1, with the yellow-and-blue forcing turnovers with a smothering defense before scoring easy points at the other end.
However, Maccabi, which had won its last two Top 16 games with superb fourth quarter performances, completely collapsed in the final 10 minutes, being outscored 27-11 by a red-hot Partizan offense.
Despite being the worst three-point shooting team in the Top 16, hitting just 27.4 percent of its efforts from beyond the arc, Belgrade scored 11 of 15 long-range attempts in the final three periods on Tuesday after going 2-of-11 in the first 10 minutes.
Veteran forward Dusan Kecman was the chief protagonist, scoring seven of nine three-point shots and finishing the game with a Euroleague career high of 29 points.
“It doesn’t matter how I played, what matters is that we won the game,” he said. “We were under pressure in the first half, but came out of it in the second half. We scored some open shots and it helped us gain confidence. It’s a big win for us and I believe we can win more games against Maccabi.”
Partizan coach Dusko Vujosevic refused to get carried away after the surprise victory.
“Maccabi is still the favorite,” he said. “The series is long. Whatever is done should be forgotten and we need to focus on our next match. The pressure is bigger after this win, and we must deal with it.”
With Alan Anderson and Chuck Eidson struggling to find their range,Doron Perkins took the decisive shots in the closing stages of Game 1,but had little success.
Anderson and Eidson combined for just 20 points, hitting seven of 23field goals, and both will have to do far better if Maccabi’s to getback into the series on Thursday night.
“I believe nothing is over yet,” Eidson said. “We must win on Thursday.There is simply no other option. This game will decide if we still havea chance of reaching the Final Four.”