Euroleague Basketball: Mac Attack pumped for Partizan

Cautious optimism abounds ahead of yellow-and-blue’s quarterfinal clash with Belgrade.

Alan Anderson Maccabi TA 311 (photo credit: MK Productions)
Alan Anderson Maccabi TA 311
(photo credit: MK Productions)
After advancing to the Euroleague quarterfinals against all odds,Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to prove it can win as a favorite when itshosts Partizan Belgrade in the teams’ quarterfinals series opener atthe Nokia Arena on Tuesday night.
Maccabi entered the Top 16 with little hope of making it through to thelast eight, but ended it with a stunning 66-64 road victory over RealMadrid to finish first in Group F and secure home-court advantage inthe best-of-five last eight playoffs.
Tel Aviv’s home form was the key to its Top 16 success, with theperennial Israeli champion winning all three of its games at Nokia.Pini Gershon’s men defeated Madrid, Efes Pilsen and Montepaschi Siena,but needed a late surge in each of the encounters to secure the victory.
Thanks to its home-court advantage and superior roster, Maccabi entersTuesday’s game, and the series as a whole, as a clear favorite.However, Gershon has no intention of taking Partizan lightly andsquandering a superb and unexpected opportunity to reach the Final Fourin Paris.
“Partizan has already beaten Barcelona and Panathinaikos and we haven’tproven that we can beat teams at that level yet, so I don’t see how wecan underestimate them,” Gershon said. “We worked hard to get the homecourt advantage and we’re not going to give it up easily.”
Partizan is playing in the quarterfinal playoffs for a third straightseason, but hasn’t reached the Final Four since 1998. This is mainlydue to the fact that the eight-time defending Serbian champion isforced to reinvent itself almost every season after selling-off its toptalents to Europe’s biggest clubs.
This campaign has been no different, with Partizan coach DuskoVujosevic – who has been at the club since 2001 as well as coaching itbetween 1985 and 1989 – once again managing to assemble a talentedroster built around homegrown players.
Partizan seemed to have no chance of making it this far after beingdrawn in a Top 16 group with defending champion Panathinaikos and titlefavorite Barcelona.
However, the Serbs, who ended the regular season with a mediocre 5-5record, stunned Europe by defeating Panathinaikos on the road in theirTop 16 opener before handing Barca its only loss of the Euroleagueseason to date the following week.
Belgrade has rarely convinced on the road this season, winning just twoof eight games away from the Pionir Arena. However, Maccabi will bewary of the fact that those two wins came against a strong UnicajaMalaga team and the reigning champion.
“Our fans have helped us to find energy during the season and we’llespecially need that against such a difficult defensive team asPartizan,” said Gershon.
“It’s not going to be a walk in the park and even if we win the firstgame by a big margin, in 48 hours we’ll need to bring the same effortsand energies to make it happen once again. A win in Game 1 is importantbut far from a reason to celebrate.”
Maccabi hosts Game 2 on Thursday before visiting Belgrade for Game 3 next Tuesday and a possible Game 4 on Thursday.
If necessary, the fifth and decisive encounter will be played back at Nokia the following week.
Several of Partizan’s players are set to become big stars in the comingyears, but one who is already being courted by many of the continentstop clubs is 2.11-meter center Aleks Maric. The 25-year-old hasaveraged 14.9 points and 9.6 rebounds this season, amassing fivedouble-doubles along the way.
Just as Maric is the key to Belgrade’s play under the baskets, BoMcCalebb is the vocal point of its backcourt. The aggressive pointguard, who has averaged 13.0 points and 3.3 assists, is one of only twoAmerican players on the roster, with forward Lawrence Roberts anotherimportant member of the team, averaging 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds.
“Maccabi has a stronger team, with more quality players than we have,”said coach Vujosevic, whose side led the Top 16 in rebounding.
“But hope is a real thing. If we did not have hope, we would never havereached the last eight. We started this season’s Euroleague competitionwith a lot of new players. We had bad luck at the draw for the firstphase and for the Top 16. Nobody believed we could reach the playoffs.This is a real big success.”
Maccabi big man Stephane Lasme will be facing his former team for thefirst time since he left in the summer and will be hoping to continuehis recent improvement on Tuesday night.
Lasme has averaged 11 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in Tel Aviv’slast two games, teaming-up superbly in the paint with D’or Fischer.
Another player who has seen his role grow with every week that haspassed is Doron Perkins. While Andrew Wisniewski continues to start forMaccabi, Perkins has taken over the playmaking responsibilities in theclosing stages of Tel Aviv’s recent games, averaging 11.0 points, 6.4rebounds, 3.7 assists, but also 3.0 turnovers in the team’s last threeencounters.
“We’re coming to the game against Partizan in good spirits and veryfocused,” Perkins said. “Since I came to Maccabi, every game has been‘the most important game,’ but it’s clear that now we are at themoney-time. There is pressure, but we are coming to play our game and Ihope we continue to play well and win.”