A defeat would not kill Maccabi’s chances, but will seriously complicate its situation.
By ALLON SINAI
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Euroleague fate may not be decided on Wednesday, but the outcome of its visit to Efes Pilsen in Istanbul is nothing less than pivotal to its chances of making the competition’s quarterfinals.With all the games in Group F going the way of the hosts so far, Maccabi knows that a road win in Turkey would put it in pole-position to finish among the top two and reach the last eight.A defeat would not kill Maccabi’s chances, but will seriously complicate its situation, especially if it loses by more than the 10-point margin by which it beat Pilsen in Tel Aviv two weeks ago.Maccabi was extremely impressive in the 72-62 win over Efes, as it was in the home victory over Real Madrid the previous week. Tel Aviv lifted its first State Cup in four years last Thursday, but it failed to display the form it showed in its previous continental wins and coach Pini Gershon knows that nothing short of his side’s best will do in Turkey.“We arrive in Istanbul after winning our first title of the season, and with a good momentum we wish to keep,” Gershon said.“Pilsen’s win over Siena in Istanbul shows how much potential there is in this team. In the first three weeks we wanted to win, but we also had in mind the margin of victory. This week it’s different because a one-point win will be more than enough for us, while Efes know they need to beat us by a significant margin.”Pilsen very nearly missed out on the Top 16 after recording a disappointing 4-6 record in the regular season. However, Ergin Ataman’s side finally began to gel in the last couple of months, defeating Montepaschi Siena at home, and only losing on the road to Madrid and Maccabi after tight games.Pilsen’s strong and deep roster includes the likes of Charles Smith, Igor Rakocevic, Preston Shumpert, Bootsy Thornton, Kaya Peker and Mario Kasun, but while Smith and Thornton combined for 28 points in Tel Aviv, Rakocevic, Shumpert, Peker and Kasun scored a total of 11 points, ending any hope the team had of winning.“We are not going to Istanbul with a mindset to protect the margin from Tel Aviv, although we’ll have to consider that as well in the last minutes according to how the game develops,” Gershon said.“When you play against devoted fans as Pilsen’s you know that their pressure can also turn against their own team, if things don’t work as planned for them. So our plan will be to sabotage their plan, and stay focused for 40 minutes.”Alan Anderson has been Maccabi’s undoubted star in the Top 16, averaging 23 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, hitting 80 percent of his shots from two-point range.The American playmaker leads the Top 16 in index ranking and scoring, but Gershon feels his team is not overly dependent on Anderson.“It’s true Anderson is in great shape, but I think that teams that focus to stop just him and not us as a team will be making a mistake,” Gershon said.While Anderson has been outstanding, Andrew Wisniewski has struggled desperately in the Top 16. The usual sharp-shooter has averaged just 3.0 points and 1.7 assists, hitting four of 16 field-goals, but is hopeful he can translate his good performance in the State Cup to the Euroleague and help Maccabi to a road win.“We have three games to focus on now, but this is our first chance to crack at it,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a hostile atmosphere over there for us. We understand what we’re going into, but we’re prepared for that and ready to go. If we want to win we can’t allow the atmosphere to bother us. We need to stick together as a team and continue to play hard defense and it’ll be alright.”
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