Basketball / Interview / They Had the Superstar and We Didn't, Says Maccabi's Blatt

Coach says Maccabi's European campaign was a success, considering all the undesired roster changes.

Maccabi Tel Aviv returned Friday after its painful Euroleague semifinal loss to Panathinaikos, ending its European campaign. David Blatt had time to watch videotape of the game, as is his custom, before the seder meal. This time, he took a pass.

"I didn't have the heart to do it," Blatt told Haaretz over the weekend. Whatever happened, happened, he said, adding that he didn't have anything to learn from the game, at least not in the short term.

Blatt directing Game 5 against Panathinaikos in Athens on Thursday.
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Blatt says the five-game series against PAO was an amazing display of two powerful, determined, quality teams. The series had almost everything spectators could wish for, with a lot of excitement, tension, joy and sadness. He likens it to a fictional tale with twists and turns.

The coach says he has not reviewed the game's last play, in which Tal Burstein tried to draw a foul in the back court - which might have been called, had he attempted to move the ball up into shooting position. He notes that everything happened as fast as lightning and under immense pressure.

Sizing up both teams, Blatt says the two were equally matched. "In the end, it was decided by one basket, one play," he says. If there is one difference, he says it lies in the fact that Panathinaikos has a superstar in Dimitris Diamantidis - who scored 25 points in Game 5 - and that Maccabi does not. Besides Diamantidis, Blatt points out that PAO had only one player in double figures, Sarunas Jasikevicius, while Maccabi had four. Essentially, he says, Diamantidis won the game by himself with clutch plays.

The domination by Diamantidis is part of the story of the series, according to Blatt, and by extension, of Maccabi's season. He says last year Maccabi was a lot less prepared for Diamantidis in the Euroleague finals and was playing without injured Doron Perkins, whom he considers to be the best match-up. Diamantidis, who won his second Euroleague MVP after scoring 16 points and dishing out nine assists in the championship game, also decided last year's final, notes Blatt.

Reflecting on this past season, Blatt recalls the departure of Jeremy Pargo, who was supposed to be the answer to Diamantidis. Then Maccabi recruited Jordan Farmar, who played in Israel during the NBA lockout. Blatt says the team's primary goal of bringing him in was not to win the Euroleague but to survive the first half of the season.

He says the team had a problem - it had no one to fill the position Farmar eventually filled. Maccabi was in a strong group and there was serious concern the team would not advance to the playoffs, which is a disaster by Maccabi's standards. Maccabi made a strategic business and professional decision, he says, knowing what the price would be and hoping the team would be able to recover.

Maccabi eventually found Demond Mallet, who came up short in the playoffs. Blatt says the European market is not overflowing with point guards and centers at the highest levels. He says that because of Super League rules and Maccabi's participation in the Adriatic League, the team was forced to find a solution to playing without Farmar - when suddenly Yogev Ohayon provided a ray of hope. Ohayon started getting more playing time and a bigger role, and he performed above and beyond expectations, says Blatt.

Keeping a star, keeping continuity

If Maccabi wants to improve, most of the team needs to stay together, says Blatt. He says you can alter about 20-30 percent of a team, but not three-fourths every year. He says that early last decade the team managed to hold onto a core for several years, including two or three stars. He says that is the most critical part - keeping a star who is there at the moment of truth, and roster continuity.

Not that this is always possible, he notes, and it may not be the right thing to do for next season. Last year it was the right thing to do, but it was impractical to pay Chuck Eidson 2 million euros. Plus, he says, the team couldn't convince Pargo to stay, and Perkins was injured. Thus, the team went from having the best backcourt last season to having to rebuild while playing in three leagues.

Blatt won't specify who he wants to keep, save for Richard Hendrix. He says Hendrix is part of the team's foundation. And as for continuity at the coaching position, he says he wants to stick around for at least two more seasons.