Ok, ok, ok. Forget history – far or close and forget those who pay hundreds of Euros to watch these games. Time to talk about those who actually make money by playing them, get all the hot chicks and are taller than most.
First, a few lines about those who won’t be there: Both teams will miss their key regular season players due to injuries. Rimas Kaukenas and Marcus Fizer were the main reasons Maccabi and MPS had good regular seasons, but manage to screw up their knees and send their teams to the higher levels of the Euroleague without them. Both teams made it there, and since CSKA was also missing Smodis for a long period at about the same time, we can say the “well, we had a lot of injuries” excuse from any team isn’t valid this season.
Almost every matchup here will be fascinating. Vujcic-Lavronvic is a meeting between two big guys atabout the same age and height who like to shoot from outside; McIntyre-Bynum is a meeting of two short US point guards who can kill the opponent or their own team on any given night; Sato-Halperin will see one guy bring huge athleticism and decent skills to beat a dude with huge skills and decent athleticism.
But … for me the most interesting matchup would be between the blue collar representatives – Terence Morris and Shaun Stonerook. Rarely do we see US players that enjoy staying in the shadows and working for their teammates. Even more rarely do we see them do such a good job on Europe’s highest level. Once in, we see them go head-to-head in Final Fours.
An international inquiry committee should be formed to figure why Stonerook wasn’t a candidate in the defensive MVP category on the form Euroleague sent to its coaches. A 201-cm monster who leads the Euroleague in steals (OK, he actually has one steal fewer than the real leader McIntyre, but that doesn’t count) meets a 207-cm guy who leads the league in blocks.
It’s kinda funny because they’re built completely differently: Morris is long and lean while Stonerook is short and wide, but their games, roles and importance are pretty much the same. Hardly ever does either force the shot; both are very smart and understand the game; both are good passers; both like to shoot from outside (Stonerook didn’t finish a single game this season with more than two 2FG made); and, as mentioned, each has his own defensive specialty but both can play huge defense that goes beyond the numbers. Neither is a great scorer, but take either off his team, and that team is lost. Oh and by the way, both are represented by the same agent.
Maccabi will have to see what kind of shape Vujcic is in coming into the game. He’s the most veteran and experienced player, especially in Final Fours, among the key players around (unless Sharp or Burstein suddenly show more on-court presence), but if he doesn’t play a large role then the dash is clean.
This is Final Four people, and this is where hands get shaky and palms get sweaty. Rarely does a player in his first Final Four experience know how to disconnect from the noise around him and give his regular performance. If Maccabi don’t use their experienced players, be ready for both teams to make a lot of stupid mistakes, miss easy shots (well, not like Stefanov … but still) and struggle to get their game going.
X-factors: Esteban Batista and Vlado Ilievski. Pay attention: They can be the ones to play big roles and decide the outcome. I got a hunch about Drake Diener (I really like him – as a player), too, but maybe it’s the bad food I had last night.
The bet: Maccabi by a small margin. Experience will talk.