Both CSKA Moscow and Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv are focused on their own performance and are not worrying about each other when the spotlight falls on them both in the opening game of the Euroleague Final Four on Friday evening in Milan.
Both teams have already played each other in the Top 16 with CSKA Moscow claiming victories in both encounters, including a one-sided 100-65 win in the Russian capital. These results though mean nothing now. Both teams are in the Final Four, a fresh start, and a new chapter.
“They were two games, it’s nothing now,” said Maccabi’s Ricky Hickman. “Since then, both of us have grown, moved on and for us especially, we have learned from our mistakes. We’ll be ready for CSKA, who are extremely well coached and have world class players.”
Maccabi’s Australian forward Joe Ingles added: “They were low points for us, particularly the game in Moscow. But we’re in a good place right now, and will be ready for Friday.”
CSKA Moscow, who will start Friday’s game as favourites have dipped in and out of form. One day, the basketball is sublime at both ends – the next day – the Russians tend to struggle, especially on the defensive end. They have been hampered with the constant injury concerns of Serbian Milos Teodosic, but have been blessed with former Toronto Raptors forward Sonny Weems being in such fine form.
“He’s [Weems] been outstanding for us,” said Teodosic. He’s been the key to our success and a leader on the court too. But this has been a team effort. We’ve all played for each other and despite the problems, my injuries for one, we’ve deserved this place in Milan.”
The Russians will also look to erase the memories of Istanbul in 2012, where they squandered a 19-point lead to lose at the buzzer to Olympiacos in the final, and then lose to the same side in last year’s semi-final in London. CSKA didn’t even read the same script as Olympiacos in a one-sided contest at the O2 Arena.
Coach Ettore Messina, who had quickly dismissed the rumours linking him with the Los Angeles Lakers job earlier today knew full well that neutrals outside of the Russian club had labelled them as “chokers”, and the players say it’s something he chooses not to pay attention to.
“End of the day, this is a new day, a new game and a shot at winning the Final Four,” said CSKA guard Aaron Jackson. “He [Messina] is still 100 percent focused on the team, and what we have to do to win. So he’s been really professional about it and he’s doing a real good job with the team.”
Tip-off between the two storied franchises is at 18:00 CET.