Euroleague: Maccabi a game away from Final Four

Sherf seeks to guide his team past Barca to avenge loss 18 years ago.

maccabi ta 224 88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
maccabi ta 224 88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
On April 16, 1991, Tzvika Sherf suffered one of the most humiliating losses in his 31 year coaching career. In what was his last appearance in the Euroleague Final Four to date, Sherf's Maccabi Tel Aviv was thrashed 101-67 by Barcelona in the semifinal in Paris. On Thursday, Sherf can book his return to the Final Four after an 18-year wait should Maccabi get the better of his familiar foe Barcelona in the decisive Game 3 of the Euroleague quarterfinal playoff series at the Nokia Arena. Nine days ago, Maccabi had little trouble winning Game 1 of the series 81-75 in Tel Aviv, but 48 hours later Barcelona comfortably forced the decisive game with an 83-74 victory. Confidence levels are very high at Maccabi ahead of Thursday's game, considering the team is 5-0 at home in the quarterfinal playoffs and Barcelona has lost four straight Euroleague road games. "I'm very confident in my team," Sherf said on Wednesday. "There's tension and pressure, but it's of a positive manner. "Both teams know each over very well and it won't be easy to pull rabbits out of the hat. All the players are ready and know what to expect. There is no need to explain how important this game is." Speaking of his opponent, Sherf exclaimed: "We have great respect for Barcelona, and we know they can play very well, but we have only one option in this game - winning. I'm not thinking of the Final Four yet -the only thing on my mind at the moment is Game 3." Ahead of the series most of Maccabi's attention was naturally drawn towards the Catalans star Slovenian playmaker Jaka Lakovic. Tel Aviv's defensive work on Lakavoic in the first two games has been a resounding success, with the guard scoring a mere six points in both games, hitting just one of 14 field goals. Maccabi was, however, stung from an unexpected source, with Barcelona's Gianluca Basile scoring 17 and 34 points in Games 1 and 2, respectively, hitting 11 of 21 attempts from three-point range. Besides slowing Barcelona down from beyond the arc, Maccabi will also be eager to get some easy points off Spanish turnovers, with the Catalans turning over the ball just six times in Game 2. "We need to be very strong mentally. We know that this is the most important game of the season. It's like a finals game for everybody," Barcelona coach Xavier Pascual said. "I keep on saying that the mentally stronger team will advance to the Final Four. We expect Ersan Ilyasova to play and give us some help, but we must wait until before the game to know for sure. "We traveled two days before the game because we wanted to be rested for Thursday. We are well prepared and if I had to bet on the game, I would put my money on Barcelona." Maccabi's Omri Casspi, who was outstanding in Spain last week, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, can't wait for Thursday's game to get under way. "We're all focused on this game. We eat, drink and dream about Barcelona," Casspi said. "We want to enjoy the moment and advance to the Final Four. We're all aware of the pressure and we'll have a tough time sleeping ahead of the game. "I can promise our fans we'll do the best we can and fight as hard as we can in this game to make it to the Final Four in Madrid."