Maccabi TA ready for Real in quarterfinals

Yellow-and-blue must overcome Madrid’s home-court advantage to advance to the Final Four.

Mac TA's Ricky Hickman 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Mac TA's Ricky Hickman 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Few experts gave Maccabi Tel Aviv a real chance of reaching the Euroleague quarterfinals after beginning the Top 16 with five defeats from seven games.
However, six victories from its final seven encounters booked Maccabi’s place in the last eight and the yellow-and-blue has no intention of stopping now.
Maccabi visits Real Madrid in Game 1 of its best-of-five quarterfinal series on Wednesday night and coach David Blatt is confident his team can reach the Final Four despite Real’s homecourt advantage.
“We know who we are facing and this is a tough obstacle,” Blatt said.
“But we really want to continue our recent momentum and reach the Final Four in London.”
Real finished Top 16 Group E in second place (10-4) after thrashing Efes Istanbul 86-66 last week, snapping a three-game losing streak following a 9-1 start to its campaign.
Madrid comfortably leads the Spanish league standings with a 25-3 record, already clinching home-court advantage in the playoff quarterfinals despite Sunday’s 88-79 loss against Valencia.
Real (79.9 points per game) and Maccabi (79.8 PPG) are among the Euroleague’s top scoring teams, with the Spaniards going 10-1 this season when scoring 80 points or more, with Tel Aviv recording a 9-1 record when reaching that mark.
Madrid and Maccabi have also committed the fewest turnovers of any Top 16 team, with Madrid leading the league in rebounding.
“Madrid has some of the best scorers in Europe,” Blatt said. “The keys for us will be our defense against three-point shooting, defending against the fast break and our defensive rebounding.”
Real is led by superstar Rudy Fernandez (14.0 PPG) and boasts a star-studded backcourt which also includes ball-handlers Sergio Llull (9.4 PPG, 3.5 APG) and Sergio Rodriguez (6.9 PPG, 3.4 APG) and sharp-shooter Jaycee Carroll (12.5 PPG).
Madrid’s most notable big-man is Nikola Mirotic (11.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG), but like Maccabi its guards are its real strength.
“Maccabi has a great and versatile outside game with four or five players who can play with dribbling, open the court, shoot,” said Madrid coach Pablo Laso. “They are aggressive attacking the ball and record many steals. The inside game maybe is not as stellar as the one from some teams we have faced this season, but they have athleticism in the paint and they turn that into a strength.”
Game 2 of the series will be played in Madrid on Friday, with Games 3 and 4, if necessary, to take place in Tel Aviv next week and a decisive Game 5, should it be required, to be held in Spain.
“I think that all of the games in the series will be demanding from a physical point of view and I expect a long series,” Laso added. “We have to be ready to take one game at a time and know that all of them will be difficult.”
After more than three weeks, the BSL will return to action on Wednesday night following the players’ strike. Hapoel Jerusalem visits Hapoel Eilat, Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Maccabi Ashdod and Hapoel Holon welcomes Barak Netanya.
On Thursday, Maccabi Haifa hosts Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Hapoel Gilboa/Galil faces Ironi Ashkelon.