Rarely has a title game at any level seen so many lead changes as Maccabi Tel Aviv and Real Madrid served up a thriller at the Assago Forum in Milano. Emmet Ryan reports on an all-time classic Euroleague final.
It took them a little longer to fill the arena than Friday night but once again Maccabi Tel Aviv’s supporters made sure this was anything but a neutral site game. Real Madrid’s players were greeted with a chorus of boos for warm-ups and it only got louder when the players were introduced. Once more Maccabi sought to pull off an upset but this time they had to contend with an offensive force that has dominated the continent all season.
Rudy Fernandez kicked off the scoring with a three. Sofoklis Schortsantidis opened Maccabi’s account. Sofo takes down Rudy hard up the other end and the battle was on. Yogev Ohayon gave the Tel Aviv club it’s first lead of the game and it was oh so physical. Maccabi’s plan was to punch Real in the nose and keep punching. Both teams struggled from the field early but Maccabi had no desire for this to be a shootout. At 8-5 with just over 5 minutes gone, the first timeout was called. A chance for Real’s players to catch their breath and re-focus. Ioannis Bourousis immediately ran into a double team. He drew the foul but did it the hard way. Maccabi weren’t letting up. Every stop by Maccabi was cheered like a three up the other end. Devin Smith stretched the lead to 6 with a mid-ranfe jumper before Rudy finally responded from deep. Sergio Rodriguez sat ready to come in as Felipe Reyes put Madrid back in front. Chacho returned to his seat. The Euroleague MVP wouldn’t see any action in the first quarter. Real ahead by the narrowest of margins, 16-15, going into the second frame.
Chacho came in to start the second quarter. Rudy leapt in like a madman for a board. He was nowhere near it but he sent the message, if Maccabi were going to be physical so would he. Fernandez picked up two boards either side of a bucket before Chacho landed a three. Real were now up 6 and Maccabi called timeout. Felipe Reyes started to have his way with Maccabi’s D, the faster pace of the quarter suiting his game. Maccabi’s offence had no answer and Real knew they had a chance to make a dent in the Tel Aviv team’s confidence. Marcus Slaughter pushed the lead to double digits briefly before David Blu finally opened Maccabi’s account in the second quarter after nearly four minutes. Reyes hurt Maccabi again on the inside, pausing to make room before hitting the lay-up, then adding another in similar style on Real’s next possession. Blu was the one man keeping Maccabi in it and the veteran reeled Real in again. It could have been a bloodbath at the break, instead Blu nailed a three on the buzzer that meant Maccabi only trailed 35-33 at half-time.