In the most unexpected way, Israel’s Maccabi Electra emerged as European Basketball champions by defeating the fancied Spanish club Real Madrid 96-86 in overtime in Sunday night’s euro-league final at Milan. After 1969, Sunday’s final was the first to go into the overtime. It was Maccabi Electra’s sixth title victory in euro-league basketball and the first since their two famous victories in 2004 and 2005. Just two days back, Maccabi had entered the final in dying seconds of the semifinal with the powerful CSKA, Moscow, who led from the start but couldn’t control the marauding Maccabi towards the end.
Thousands of Israeli fans travelled to Milan to watch their heroes in action. Many bought the tickets from CSKA and Barcelona fans, who possessed such tickets in anticipation of their favorite sides reaching the finals. Most Maccabi fans were dressed in their team’s yellow trademark shirts and carried the team’s yellow-and-blue banners and Israeli flags. After the victory, the fans spilled out in the streets of Milan for extended celebrations. The Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres called up Maccabi coach David Blatt and confided to him that the thrilling match literally stopped his heart.
Tyrese Rice was the hero for Maccabi as he scored 26 points, out of which 21 came in the fourth quarter and overtime. It was Rice, who hit the match-winning layup against CSKA on Friday and he was deservedly named as bwin MVP for the 2014 Final Four. The victory was sweeter for Maccabi as they defeated the eight time champions and euro-league’s most favorite team. Moreover, it was an apt revenge, as Maccabi had lost to Real in the championship match in 1980. Besides Rice, Alex Tyus had 12 points with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks, Ricky Hickman had 18 points, Devin Smith 15 and David Blu 14. Incidentally, Blu was also in the 2004 team, when Maccabi had won the title. For Real Madrid, euro-league season bwin MVP Sergio Rodriguez added 21 points and Rudy Fernandez scored 15 with 8 rebounds. It was Real’s second straight loss in euro-league final and they have not won the league title since 1995.
The first quarter began with Rudy Fernandez’s triple and Sofoklis Schortsanitis’s close-range response. Fernandez also had two free throws as Real led 5-2. For 4 minutes, Maccabi’s defense didn’t permit any basket, while Schortsanitis, Ohayon and Smith had close-range scores. The game became fast paced in later stages as Real ended the quarter with a 16-15 lead and had a great start in the second quarter with Fernandez playing a dominant game. David Blatt had to call a time-out, when Real’s lead became 21-15. Regardless, Real continued the pressure and widened their lead to 26-15. Blu and Rice, however, reduced the margin by scintillating displays and second quarter ended with Real leading 35-33. Fernandez continued with his super performance and scored again as the third quarter began. But his three-pointer was aptly responded by Schortsanitis. The game became intense as Bourousis scored a layup for Real, Smith responded with a triple and Ricky Hickman’s jumper made Maccabi go up 41-40. But Real regained the advantage with Mirotic’s layup and Darden’s three-pointer. Maccabi fought back through Hickman and Tyus to make it 47-47. The lead kept changing from one side to another in the third quarter but Real ended with a 55-53 advantage.
Maccabi had a great start to the fourth quarter as Tyus scored from a two-handed slam. Real responded by a triple from Rodriguez. Hickman and Rice regained the lead for Maccabi at 60-58. There were long-range shots from Mirotic and Blu and with 6 minutes left, Rodriguez produced a corner three to make it 64-63 for Real. However, Hickman and Rice leveled the score to 67-67. A time-out was taken with 3 minutes left, after which Tyus made a put-back dunk, to which Mirotic immediately responded. Maccabi went ahead 73-69 after Blu scored from close range and Rice produced a layup. In last minute, Rodriguez and Bourousis produced two free throws each to tie the game 73-73 as a jumper from Rice rebounded off the rim. The game went to overtime, which began with Mirotic and Bourousis scoring a pair and Rice inserting a triple in between. Rice played intelligently by stealing and holding the ball, which prevented Real from scoring field goals. Though Mirotic and Rodriguez tried their best, Rice and Tyus were relentless in closing stages. With 50 seconds left, Maccabi went into a double-digit lead and in dying seconds, a slam from Ohayon ended in a historic win for Maccabi!
Earlier on Saturday, FC Barcelona defeated CSKA Moscow 93-78 for the third place. Juan Carlos Navarro led FCB for the fine finish as he became the career leader in three-pointers with 31 against 30 by retired CSKA legend JR Holden. In first quarter CSKA led 24-21, helped by Sasha Kaun, Victor Khryapa Milos Teodosic and Sonny Weems but Navarro came back strongly for Barca in the second quarter by consolidating Lampe’s two three-pointers earlier his team led 30-26. Though Navarro’s basket was matched by Kaun, Navarro connected on his first three and put Barca further ahead. Towards the close CSKA fought back to cut the lead-margin but Barca still led 50-47 at half-time. After the break, both teams began playing in full flow. Navarro’s three was matched by Kaun but a combination of Hezonja and Navarro resulted in the double-digit lead for Barca. Though Hines and Weems reduced the margin at the end of third quarter, Brad Oleson scored a triple early in the fourth quarter. With an elegant Dorsey keeping Barca ahead, Lampe converted a three-point play and Oleson and Papanikolaou scored threes. It became easy for Barcelona thereafter as they ran away to a comfortable 93-78 victory.