The Euroleague Final Four 2014 is underway in Milan’s Mediolanum Forum and the extravaganza of Basketball is already providing riveting entertainment. Opening the weekend of action that will determine this season’s Euroleague champions were CSKA Moscow and Maccabi Tel Aviv. Two of the most successful clubs in the history of this format, CSKA have won the Final Four twice while Tel Aviv holds three titles.
Once again these great continental rivals squared off and Maccabi Tel Aviv put in a memorable comeback to defeat CSKA 67-68 in a shock result. CSKA Moscow cruised through the competition to get to this stage, while Maccabi’s passage has been rockier. However, the Isreali powerhouse has come good in recent weeks, and had enough fighting spirit to see off Russian giant CSKA by one point. The game will be remembered for a solid comeback by the Israeli’s, who were trailing by fifteen points during the third quarter.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will now contest its 15th Euroleague championship game, while CSKA are left licking wounds after another crumble at the Final Four event.
Ricky Hickman has been mooted as the key to success should Tel Aviv win the Euroleague, and it was the American who opened the scoring. Sasha Kaun responded for CSKA to make it 2-2, before Yogev Ohayon and Kaun traded scores to tie the game at 4-4. Andrey Vorontsevich went 100% from the charity strip and Kaun scored twice more to cap a 6-0 mini run for Moscow to put the scoreboard at 10-4. Over the middle half of the period the teams matched baskets, but CSKA kept a six point cushion (14-8). The Israeli giant responded by scoring the next six points to level the score at 14 apiece, but CSKA responded to a Tyrese Rice two for Tel Aviv with a layup from Victor Khryapa and split free throws from Sonny Weems to hold a 19-16 lead after 10 minutes.
Aaron Jackson extended CSKA’s lead early in the second frame (21-16), but Tel Aviv replied with the first triple of the contest when David Blu scored. Despite the Israeli teams’ effort, CSKA was managing to stay one step ahead, with Khryapa’s dunk and a floater from Milos Teodosic cancelling out another hit from downtown courtesy of Blu (25-22). A later triple plus free throw play from Teodosic restored CSKA’s six point lead from the first quarter (31-25) and the Russian club extended that to eight points near the end of the second quarter, with the score at 35-27. There was enough time in the first half for Rice to layup and hit a free throw for Tel Aviv and for Vitaly Fridzon to hit from beyond the arc to give CSKA a healthy 38-30 lead at the midway point.
Moscow’s grip on the game tightened at the start of the third as the Russians extended for the first double digit lead of the game, 10 points ahead after Kaun’s dunk (40-30). Blu struck from distance once more to get Tel Aviv rolling in the second half, but that score was followed by a streak of failed attacking moves from both sets of players. CSKA recommenced scoring when Kyle Hines made a layup to make it 44-33, while Maccabi kept ditching balls and not finding the basket. Weems and Kristic scored to put CSKA 15 points in front and to give Tel Aviv a mountain to climb. The Israeli’s responded well at the end of the third to cut the lead to five points, with the score reading 55-45 after 30 minutes.
Kaun continued to pace Moscow at the start of the last frame, but Alex Tyus scored a jumper and a put back dunk to suddenly put Tel Aviv back in the game. The deficit was back to six, with the score now sitting on 57-51. Khryapa traded triples with the on fire Blu, while Teodosic’s double was cancelled by a Hickman shot from downtown (62-57). With four minutes on the clock Tel Aviv got mean in defence and shut out Moscow for three minutes, while a Rice layup made the score 62-59. CSKA seemed to have kept cool and extended to 67-63 after Weems scored with just 19.2 second left of regulation. However, Blu struck again from outside the semi-circle to make it 67-66 and Rice hit a game winning layup with just 5.5 seconds remaining after a season changing assist from Blu.
Blu was outstanding from the field and scored 15 points, all from triple distance. Also pivotal to Tel Aviv’s success were Rice with 13 points, and 10 point games from Hickman and Tyus.
As CSKA’s season crumbled, Kaun secured 14 points and 5 rebounds, while Teodosic hit 13 points.