Pana, Maccabi battle for final ticket to Istanbul

Pana, Maccabi battle for final ticket to Istanbul

ATHENS - Hürriyet Daily News
Pana, Maccabi battle for final ticket to Istanbul

Maccabi’s Devin Smith (6) drives to the basket while being defended by Panathinaikos players during the two teams’ Turkish Airlines Euroleague playoffs. The playoff battles between the two teams have been this year’s most thrilling Euroleague series.

All eyes will be at OAKA tonight as Panathinaikos hosts Maccabi Electra for the make-or-break match on the road to Istanbul.

The two teams will battle to reach the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four, which will take place in Istanbul next month, in Game 5 of their best-of-five playoffs series.

The winner of the tie will join the likes of Regal Barcelona, CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos in the Final Four.

The tie between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Electra became the only tie that went to the fifth game, which is worthy of the two teams’ recent rivalry. Panathinaikos and Maccabi played in last year’s Euroleague final, and the Greeks won. It is the 30th time that both teams go against each other.
Maccabi had the chance to close the series with a win in Tel Aviv last week, but coach David Blatt says the team has left it behind.

“The loss in Game 4 is behind us, there’s no point in crying about it,” Blatt was quoted as saying on the official Turkish Airlines Euroleague website. “We are completely focused on Game 5. It’s crucial that we start the game well, because there’s no doubt that they will come to the game with a lot of enthusiasm - both the team and the crowd. Panathinaikos will try to lock the game up from the beginning and pressure us, and we of course will do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Both teams have been able to win at home and on the road, and all games have been very different from each other, so it is hard to predict what to expect in Game 5 other than high intensity, drama and a great crowd at OAKA.

Above all, Maccabi needs to stop Panathinaikos’ starting backcourt, Dimitris Diamantidis and Nick Calathes. Diamantidis, the reigning Euroleague Most Valuable Player, never disappoints in make-or-break games. Calathes has averaged 14 points and six rebounds in both wins against Maccabi but just six points and three rebounds in two losses.

Diamantidis will not have it easy against Yogev Oyahon, who led all rebounders in Game 4 with nine boards. His court sense, deep range and aggressiveness have made Oyahon become Maccabi’s X-factor in this series. He will have plenty of help from Demond Mallet and Theo Papaloukas, whose experience will be critical in this game.

Of course, Panathinaikos relies on Sarunas Jasikevicius to change the game with his legendary court vision and deep range off the bench.

As usual, and even when he is seeing limited playing time, stopping Sofoklis Schortsanitis will be a critical issue for Panathinaikos.