Lost the Title, but Gained Respect / In Barcelona, Champs Praise Tough Israelis

Greek guard Dimitris Diamantidis the regular-season MVP, is also named MVP of the Final Four; Maccabi head coach David Blatt says 'Next year, we are taking the title.'

Panathinaikos celebrated its sixth European championship last night after defeating Maccabi Tel Aviv in Barcelona, but the victors made sure to acknowledge the formidable challenge posed by their Israeli foes.

"I just want to thank all of our fans, and the fans of Maccabi who gave us this great atmosphere," said Panathinaikos coach Zelimir Obradovic, who captured a record eighth European championship, the last five with the Athens-based club.

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"Maccabi played very well, and it even dominated play in parts of the second half," Obradovic said. "It has a lot of character, but I also want to thank my players who gave a tremendous effort. There was nothing special that we did. We just try to work hard every day and do our jobs."

"I think we played well and all that matters is that we managed to win it in the end," said Greek guard Dimitris Diamantidis, who was stellar with 16 points and nine assists. "This is why you practice hard and why you play basketball."

Diamantidis, the regular-season MVP, was also the MVP of the Final Four. The only others to win Final Four MVP awards more than once are Toni Kukoc of Croatia (four ) and Dejan Bodiroga of Serbia (two ).

Diamantidis won the championship for the third time with the Greens.

"Every trophy you win is great," he said.

Maccabi head coach David Blatt, who earned widespread praise for unexpectedly leading his team to within one victory of the championship, predicted that Tel Aviv would hoist the trophy next year.

"I'm very proud of the way we conducted ourselves this season," the Boston native said. "Next year, we are taking the title."

In the locker room after the game, Maccabi players and officials observed a moment of silence to honor Israel's fallen soldiers as they listened to the sound of the wailing Memorial Day siren through a cell phone link to Israel.