Maccabi Tel Aviv ready to close out at home

Yellow-and-blue look to avoid deciding 5th game vs Panathinaikos in hostile environment.

Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Panathinaikos 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs Panathinaikos 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Essentially, Maccabi Tel Aviv can afford to lose to Panathinaikos in Game 4 of the Euroleague quarterfinals at Nokia Arena on Thursday night.
After all, with a 2-1 lead in the best-of- five series, Maccabi would still remain in contention to reach the Final Four even if it falls to the defending Euroleague champion.
However, Maccabi will be approaching Thursday’s showdown as if it is the series decider, understanding that a Game 5 in Athens is something it must avoid at all costs.
Maccabi toughed out a 65-62 win in Game 3 on Tuesday, holding on to a 13- point halftime lead (41-28) despite only scoring 24 points after the break.
Just one week ago, Maccabi entered Game 2 with its back against the wall after being humbled in the series opener.
But an unforgettable 94-92 overtime win in Athens tied the series and Tuesday’s victory means Maccabi suddenly finds itself as the favorite against the team that beat it in the Euroleague final last season.
“This game is critical for both us and Pao,” Maccabi coach David Blatt said on Wednesday.
“The fact that we will have to go back to Greece if we lose makes this game important enough for us, as does the fact that we find ourselves within one win of the Final Four.
“There have been some serious battles in the series so far and I expect the same on Thursday.”
After seeing Panathinaikos score 14 three-pointers in Game 2, while committing just 10 turnovers, Maccabi set itself a goal of shutting down the Greeks from beyond the arc and scoring more points on the break.
Blatt’s plan worked to perfection in the first half on Tuesday, and despite his team’s offensive struggles after halftime, the coach will be delighted if Pao only hits three of 14 threes and commits 16 turnovers once more on Thursday.
“Just like Game 2, there is also a special dynamic to Game 4 because it is less than 48 hours after the previous encounter,” Blatt said. “We are playing one of the best teams in Europe and one of the beat tacticians in Europe and we will have to adjust accordingly.
“Pao has its back against the wall, but if we don’t win they will have the advantage ahead of Game 5.”
Pao coach Zeljko Obradovic was furious with his team’s play in Game 2, especially in the first half.
“Maccabi started Game 2 very well and we played very bad in the first half,” he said. “It is difficult to understand why we made so many turnovers, and that’s what made Maccabi take the big lead.
“In the second half we played much better. We missed some open shots, but this is basketball.
“It will be a very difficult game for both teams on Thursday. Ohayon played very well in the last two games. We will need to find a way to stop him in the next game.”
After only scoring three points in 17 minutes in Game 1, Ohayon has been nothing short of sensational, averaging 13.5 points, 5.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals in the last two wins.
“We implemented our game plan on Tuesday, but that win is already in the past,” an exhausted Ohayon said after Game 3. “The only thing on our mind is finding a way to win on Thursday.”