Since the end of the Top 16, Maccabi isn’t playing the basketball that earned them first place in the group. Against AXA, it was already a little less intense Maccabi, but still it was enough.
The real difference was seen, of all places, in the Israeli league, where Maccabi normally cruises to the title. Last night, the yellows traveled to Nahariya hoping to get back on the winning track. They took the court while Montepaschi was about to finish their close-to-illegal-tantalization over Capo D’Orlando, and ended up losing. Again.
Maccabi lost three out of their four league games, with the single win a 113-111 home win over Hapoel Jerusalem in overtime after Hapoel led by double-digit margins for most of the game up to and including the closing minutes. Sherf’s boys made a huge comeback, like in the good old days, to win the game; but if you think that was Maccabi’s winning spirit, well, think again.
All of those last four games were decided by a single basket or less: 78-79, 113-111, 101-99, 88-87. Maccabi lost three: Not a good sign for a team marching into what could be a game that will go down to the last minute.
The fan factor
We’ve gotten used to seeing mayors asking to host the Euroleague Final Four and eventually having to survive a yellow-and-blue attack taking over the city for three days, but seems like things will be different this time.
In previous Final Fours, Maccabi was escorted by at least 6,000 fans (In Paris 2001, there were about 10,000; well, it’s still Paris), but the prices of the trip packages (starting at 1,500 euros…) made a difference and as it seems right now, after around six-seven flights were canceled, Maccabi will have “only” 3,000 followers. After Maccabi had more fans in Moscow 2005 than CSKA itself, and had gotten used to “taking over” the Final Four arena, this case will be different, although against Montepaschi and “hopefully” CSKA (just in case…) Maccabi is still expected to enjoy an advantage there.