Maccabi to face CSKA for title

Tel Aviv aiming for historic third consecutive European Championship.

Mac TA 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Mac TA 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
History will be on the line in Prague Sunday night where Maccabi Tel Aviv faces CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague final with a third straight European Championship at stake. Maccabi cruised to victory against Tau Vitoria in the first of Friday's semifinals, defeating the Spaniards 85-70. Tel Aviv's final obstacle to the title will be four times winners CSKA which beat Barcelona 84-75 to progress to the European final for the first time since 1973. Maccabi is now only one win away from joining Split (89-91) and ASK Riga (58-60) as the only teams to win three straight European championships. Standing between Tel Aviv and a sixth ever cup is mythological opponent CSKA Moscow. The Russians are led by high scoring guards J.R. Holden (11.2 ppg) and Theo Papaloukas (8.4 ppg, 4 apg) who each scored 19 points against Barcelona in the semifinal and swingman Trajan Langdon (12.9 ppg) who scored 13 points on Friday. The responsibility for stopping CSK's threesome will rest on the shoulders of Will Solomon, Anthony Parker, Derrick Sharp and Tal Burstein. "We know they are a very tough team," Burstein said in the pre-game press conference on Saturday. "They have a lot of good players and of course a great coach. We expect a tough game tomorrow, but we hope to play at least as good as Friday." Maccabi will also need to be wary of danger man David Vanterpool (9.9 ppg,4,7), who will be in charge of guarding Parker and could turn out to be a surprise difference maker between the teams. Of course the importance of the big men cannot be overlooked. Slovenian forward Matjaz Smodis (11.6 ppg) has stepped up for CSKA since injury ended star center David Andersen's season. Smodis scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds against Barcelona in the semis. Big men Thomas Van Den Spiegel and Aleksey Savrasenko will be on hand to help Smodis to disrupt Nikola Vujcic's and Maceo Baston's attacking play. Moscow coach Ettore Messina is primarily a defensive coach and has turned his team into the best defensive side in Europe. Messina holds a 12-0 record against Maccabi and said about his record, "Somebody likes to wear the same suit or the same tie to every game, or relies on his faith in God. As I see it, this is one of those little things that help us feel better going into difficult moments." "We expect a tough game on Sunday against a good team with an experienced coach," Gershon said at Saturday's press conference. The Maccabi coach walked eight kilometers to the press conference so he wouldn't need to drive and desecrate Shabbat. "Both teams made a long way to the Final. It's not easy to defend the championship, but I expect my players to handle the pressure." In the semi-final on Friday, the yellow-and-blue opened an early lead and were ahead throughout the entire game, effectively ending Tau's hopes before half time. "We had a great start," Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said after the game. "We found the tempo of the game while we also put all our experience on the floor. I'm happy now and I'll be happier if we can win the cup." A 9-0 run midway through the first quarter gave Tel Aviv a 14-4 lead, with Tau looking visibly shaken by Maccabi's fast start.The Israelis held on to their advantage, ending the first quarter up 24-17. Vitoria gave itself renewed hope with two quick baskets at the start of the second quarter, closing the gap to two points. Tau's hopes were short lived after Tel Aviv went on an 11-2 run and reopened a double digit lead. The Spaniards were unable to slow down Maccabi on offense with the Israelis shooting 55 percent from the floor. Vitoria suffered from Will Solomon's good defense on playmaker Pablo Prigioni, who ended the match scoreless and with a single assist. "Solomon played excellent. It's not easy to stop Prigioni," Gershon said after the game. "For me, Solomon had a great game because to stop Prigioniis also to stop their big guys." Maccabi ended the half with a massive 51-32 lead, enjoying a tremendous performance and 19 first half points by Anthony Parker. "There's only one Anthony Parker. He's the reason we're all here," Gershon commented on Friday. "He comes to play at every practice and neverc omplains. He's a great player, a great person, he's everything." It was not only Gershon who has recognized Parker's titanic contribution to Maccabi in the Euroleague this season. At the Euroleague awards dinner at the Prague Castle on Saturday night, the guard was awarded the overall Euroleague MVP award for the second year in a row. Parker and team mate Nikola Vujcic were also named to the All-Euroleague first team. Tel Aviv continued to surge forward in the third quarter, leading by as many as 32 points [71-39] in the 27th minute of the game. The period ended in a 73-48 Tel Aviv lead meaning the fourth quarter was no more than garbage time. Gershon rested his players in the final period, allowing Tau to cut the lead and end the game with a respectable 85-70 defeat. Maceo Baston led Tel Aviv with 20 points, seven rebounds and six blocks, with Nikola Vujcic also contributing 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Maccabi scorers: Maceo Baston 20 points and 7 rebounds, Anthony Parker 19points, Nikola Vujcic 16 points, Tal Burstein 12 points, Will Solomon and Jamie Arnold 9 points, Derrick Sharp, Sharon Shason, Yaniv Green and KirkPenney all played but did not score.