Mac’s dream one win away from reality

Blatt & co. destroy Real Madrid to set up final clash with Panathinaikos.

Hendrix 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hendrix 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
A dream that was deemed to be all but impossible only a few months ago is now within a single victory of realization for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Maccabi faces Panathinaikos in the Euroleague final at the Palau Sant Jordi Arena in Barcelona on Sunday evening, looking to claim its sixth – and perhaps most unexpected – European title.
There was little to indicate at the start of the season that this Maccabi team was capable of even reaching the Final Four, let alone becoming continental champions.
However, as Friday’s 82-63 semifinal win over Real Madrid proved, this group of players and coaches in yellow-and-blue do not only believe they can go all the way with their captivating basketball – they actually expect to do so.
“Panathinaikos is a team of great experience, with a great coach and continuity and quality players,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt, who helped Tel Aviv to its seventh Euroleague final in 12 seasons, tying Madrid for the most appearances ever in the Euroleague title game with 14.
“These are the things that bring them to the top again and again. We have some of the same qualities, but this team is partly new. But we have come together quickly. We have been consistent.
We have grown, suffered adversity with [Doron Perkins] down. We survived that and found a way to play successfully together. My players deserve the highest praise for their character and willingness to accept the system and play together.
“We as a unit have been together a short time and this is our first game of this nature. But it’s not about creating the wheel in a day. We are going to be what we are. And fortunately that’s been pretty good. Will that be enough? We’ll see. But we’ll continue doing what we’ve being doing all season.”
There was little to separate Maccabi and Real after a tight first half on Friday, with Maccabi leading 32-29 at the break.
But Tel Aviv surged into an eight-point lead in the third period on a spectacular Jeremy Pargo dunk, and despite seeing Real close back to within two points, still held a 55-47 margin with 10 minutes to play.
A David Blu three-pointer capped an 11-2 run to start the fourth frame, opening a 66-49 gap, which Maccabi had little trouble maintaining on its way to yet another European final.
Chuck Eidson proved once and for all that there is no truth to the criticism that he doesn’t show up for big games, scoring 19 points, grabbing eight rebounds and snagging six steals.
Sofoklis Schortsanitis added 16 points, Guy Pnini scored 14, including four threes, with Pargo contributing 13 points and seven assists for Maccabi, which hit 31 of 59 shots from the field (52.5%), including 12 of 23 from beyond the arc.
Ante Tomic had 17 points for Real, which shot only 31 percent (20 of 64) from the field.
In the first semi on Friday, Panathinaikos beat Montepaschi Siena 77-69 to reach the final for the third time in five seasons.
The Greeks held a 40-36 lead at halftime, and a 9-2 surge to start the second half put Pana in complete control.
Nick Calathes scored a career-high 17 points, with Mike Batiste adding 16.
Panathinaikos coach Zeljko Obradovic, the winningest coach in Euroleague history, will be going for his eighth crown and a sixth for the Greens, who ousted reigning-champion Barcelona in the quarterfinals without home-court advantage.
“We went through a lot to be in the position to play one more final and I have to thank my players for the excellent job they did,” Obradovic said. “If we want to win the title, we will have to play much better than in the semis.
“Maccabi is an excellent team with a lot of talent and they showed that against Real Madrid. We have a good perimeter game, good three-point shooting, inside game and very, very good defense.
“Maccabi is a very talented team, with players able to play one-on-one, solving tough situations in the final seconds of each possession. They have an inside game with Sofo and the defenses that Mr. Blatt likes to use are very important in Maccabi’s game.
“Our target is not to be here, but to win another Euroleague title.”
Just as in recent seasons, Panathinaikos’s most important piece is playmaker Dimitrios Diamantidis (12.4 ppg, 6.1 apg, 3.8 rpg), with forward Batiste (13.1 ppg, 5.4 rpg) one of the most consistent players in European basketball.
Antonis Fotsis (8.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Drew Nicholas (9.6 ppg) and Romain Sato (8.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) are three more of Obradovic’s favorite players, but as Calathes showed on Friday, Panathinaikos has one of the deepest rosters in the competition, with plenty of players who can hurt Maccabi.
Nevertheless, Tel Aviv is confident that an already remarkable season can turn into a dream one with a victory on Sunday.
“We have already settled ourselves and we are looking forward to the final,” Pnini said. “We will have to make some adjustments for Panathinaikos, but I’m optimistic and I believe we will return to Israel with the cup.”