It may be a neutral site but make no mistake, this was a home game for Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Their fans started arriving over five hours before opening tip and once they were allowed inside, the Forum became a sea of blue and gold. From the press tribune high above the court, all three sides were covered with travelling supporters from Israel, and the area below us wasn’t lacking in Maccabi fans either.
The momentum from the crowd helped Maccabi into a brief lead early but Sasha Kaun quickly took over. Despite Sonny Weems struggling as a creator, Kaun was able to make his own space to take charge on the inside early. CSKA came to Milano with a plan to hurt Maccabi up the gut and for most of the opening quarter it worked perfectly. Even with the introduction of Sofoklis Schortsantidis, CSKA still found ways to score inside as Kyle Hines stepped back to shoot over the big Greek. Maccabi however tightened up on D and tied the game at 14-14. Nenad Krstic proved easier for the Maccabi D to handle as CSKA’s offence slowed considerably but the Russians still led 19-16 after the first.
David Blu gave Maccabi fans something to shout about with a three early in the second but Viktor Khryapa responded with a dunk shortly after Kaun re-entered the game. Milos Teodosic quickly followed up with another bucket. The tone looked to be clear, with Kaun CSKA would command. Blu however had other ideas as he made another three up the other end to keep it within one possession. Teodosic nailed a three while being fouled, completing the four point play to push the Moscow side into a six point lead. Once more Krstic entered the game, once more CSKA’s offence slowed but Maccabi were getting nothing done up the other end. A slow CSKA was still superior to a static Maccabi. The Moscow club entered half time up 38-30.
Variety in CSKA’s game was proving the difference. While both teams were poor from deep, the Russians were taking care of business in the mid-range game leaving Maccabi one-dimensional. That CSKA failed to extend their lead to double digits for more than a possession was shocking nad mostly down to Weems struggling. Hines bullied his way in for a score mid way through the third and CSKA finally moved ahead by 11. With the Weems and Krstic combination simply not working, CSKA couldn’t press home their advantage. The visible problems of Weems hid the contribution he was making, hitting the 5 dime mark late in the third. A mid-ranger from Krstic stretched the lead to 13 and CSKA were finally making their dominance count. With 10 minutes to play, CSKA led 55-45 and the loudest cheer came from Real Madrid’s Berserkers, who saw their team walk out below them.
Devin Smith said on Thursday that Maccabi needed to buck their poor form on the boards for one weekend but from the off they were dominated by CSKA. With the Moscow club owning the rebounding game 33-21 after three, their inability to push too far ahead on the scoreboard for the bulk of the game didn’t hurt them. Kaun opened the scoring in the fourth and the train rolled on. A glimmer of hope appeared for Maccabi as a Smith dunk cut the gap to six but Khryapa immediately responded with a three. Maccabi were finally showing the kind of fight their fans deserved and cut the gap to five with 3.53 on the clock.
Maccabi, dead and buried for most of the game cut it to one possession with a score from Rice, seconds after Weems visibly urged his team mates to slow it down. Krstic, long the biggest cause of CSKA’s offensive woes, gave them some breathing room. Maccabi kept on coming, Smith cut it to two and CSKA had one offence to hurt Maccabi. Weems finally made one land to push CSKA 4 ahead with 19 seconds on the clock. Weems punched the air, relief and belief coming together. A Blu three however gave CSKA pause for thought and then…CSKA CSKAed in the most CSKA way imaginable.
Khryapa gave up a turnover and Rice took care of business at the other end. After being dominated for 33 minutes, Maccabi took the upset 68-67. The floor flooded with blue and gold, Maccabi fans unable to believe what they had just achieved. The underdogs pulled one off in insane circumstances. On Sunday, they play for all the marbles.