Maccabi Tel Aviv bowed out of the Euroleague Top 16 with a poor performance at Nokia Arena last night that ended in a 69-57 victory for Real Madrid, which qualifies for the Final Four.
Before the game Maccabi superstars of yesteryear Aulcie Perry and Earl Williams were paraded in front of the crowd, but that could not erase the prospect of a 3-0 whitewash after. No team has ever come back from 2-0 down in a five-game Euroleague Top 16 series.
Maccabi opened with Shawn James, Devin Smith, Ricky Hickman, Nik Caner-Medley and Yogev Ohayon against Real Madrid’s Rudy Fernandez, Carlos Suarez, Nikola Mirotic, Mirza Begic and Sergio Llull.
The first quarter was a scrappy affair, with more mistakes than creative basketball. Both teams started hesitantly, and five minutes into the game the score was still only 3-5. With Maccabi − and particularly Ohayon − guilty of missing relatively easy baskets, Real gradually extended its lead to 11-5, although the calming addition of Guy Pnini plus several errors by Real players allowed the hosts to keep the score at 10-16 by the end of the quarter.
Maccabi coach David Blatt introduced Moran Roth at the break but the teams continued to trade baskets, and unforced errors, allowing Real to maintain the lead despite its disjointed defense. Halfway into the quarter Maccabi was showing more flair in offense, with Caner-Medley’s distribution at the heart of almost every move, but its defensive work let the team down.
As Real missed scoring chance after scoring chance the hosts slowly narrowed the gap until Yogev Ohayon landed a fine basket to level the score at 30-30 as the Nokia Arena audience finally awoke from its slumber and urged the team on. But with James and Caner-Medley missing baskets they should have scored Maccabi failed to take advantage of its qualitative advantage at that point and trailed 30-33 at the break. It was the first quarter Maccabi had won in nearly three games against Real Madrid.
Llull reopened the proceedings by landing his third three-pointer of four attempts as Real slowed the tempo even further and tried to take advantage of its height advantage, but again some disjointed passing play gave Maccabi scoring chances that were only partially utilized as the hosts leveled the score at 38-38.
Midway through the quarter Yogev Ohayon broke through Real’s moribund defense to give Maccabi the lead for the first and only time in the game, but Real fired back with a sublime three-pointer from Llull that began a 10-point run as Maccabi appeared to run out of ideas. Hickman and James were both guilty of relinquishing possession as the guests strode to 52-44 at the end of the third period.
As the final quarter ran down Maccabi simply ran out of steam and slipped further behind as Rodriguez, in particular, cut through the home defense almost at will. Real’s inspiring captain Felipe Reyes was by now running the game. Nokia Arena began to empty as disgruntled Maccabi fans filed out long before the final buzzer. It was a sad way to end the campaign.
Blatt sounded sanguine after the game.
“It’s no embarrassment to lose to Real Madrid. They are a better team than us, and we simply didn’t have enough against them,” he said.
Asked whether the team roster will be refreshed during the summer, Blatt defended his players, but hinted that the team needs strengthening.
“I’m proud of what we did [in Europe] this season. We will have to look at the team. There were too many missed shots and we didn’t put enough points on the board. We have and will continue to talk about this issue."