Maccabi Tel Aviv has good reason to fear CSKA Moscow should it meet the Final Four host in the Euroleague Final Four championship game Sunday. The Russians have lost only once in any type of competition this season, but what concerns Maccabi even more than CSKA's skills on the court is the help it is perceived to be receiving from referees.
"Marcus Brown scored nine points in one offensive play, which must be a world record," quips one Russian sports writer after the CSKA guard pulled off the unlikely feet against Kazan in the Russian Cup final. Brown sunk a basket and was awarded a dubious foul, Kazan coach Stanislav Yeremin protested and received two technicals, and Brown made another three points from the free throw line, and to add insult to injury, immediately buried a 3-pointer. "CSKA has benefited from decisions like that all season, and there's no reason to think things will be any different in the Final Four," he says.
Lithuanian referee Raimondas Barazauskas has a checkered history with Maccabi. Coach Pini Gershon accused him of being hostile to the club after Maccabi's 2000 Euroleague final loss to Panathinaikos. But since then, Barazauskas has proven to be an objective referee who is not influenced by pressure from home fans. The Lithuanian is the most senior of the referees at the Final Four, and has a good chance of officiating the championship game.
Maccabi does not consider Finland's Karl Jungenbrand, Greece's Stavros Tsanidis or Turkey's Rasap Ankarali as holding any preference. Spain's Juan Carlos Arteaga is considered completely objective, which leaves Italians Stefano Cazzaro and Fabio Facchini and Slovak referee Peter Sudek. Cazzaro is highly experienced and not expected to favor anyone, while Facchini once chased after Maccabi's center Maceo Baston the entire length of the court.
Sudek is perhaps the most problematic referee from Maccabi's point of view. He made some tough decisions against Maccabi in last season's semifinal against CSKA, and Gershon has said the Slovak has officiated Panathinaikos games too often as of late.
The big problem for Maccabi in Moscow could be Baston. Todd Wernick, one of Israel's former top referees, says European officials do not know how to handle an athletic blocker like Baston. "In Europe, the referees don't understand the timing of Baston's blocks, which are the result of his enormous athletic prowess. Most of the fouls ruled against Baston wouldn't be called in the NBA."
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