Victor Khyrapa will struggle to sleep tonight. In fact, it might be a while before he is able to rest properly.
It was Khyrapa’s turnover at half-court that led to a clutch bucket inside from Tyrese Rice with 5.5 seconds left, resulting in Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv overturning a 15-point deficit to beat CSKA Moscow 68-67 in the first Euroleague Final Four semi-final game in Milan on Friday evening.
Maccabi only led for five seconds, but in the end it was all they needed, as David Blu took the ball off the veteran Khyrapa, passed to a trailing Rice, who sent the Mediolanum Forum into sheer delirium. Sonny Weems had one last gasp attempt for CSKA, but his three was long as many fans clad in yellow stormed the court forcing security to pull them away.
“Unbelievable,” Rice said. “I just saw the one on one situation, and tried to go and make the play. Plain and simple. This means everything. This is everything. This is what you play basketball for, to be in these situations, with game-winning shots to go to the championship game. You can’t write a script any better than that.”
David Blu led Maccabi with 15 points with Rice adding 13, eight of which coming in the second half. Both of them inspired Maccabi’s comeback from 15 points down to snatch it.
“At 15 down, I was saying ‘we just have to gain a little bit of ground before the end of the third quarter and not let the game get away from us,’” Maccabi coach David Blatt said.
“We had to set a short-term goal for ourselves and that was to get ourselves within striking distance at the end of the third quarter of about 10. And the thing that I said that was most important was with five minutes to go, we were down five, and we came in the timeout I didn’t even talk tactics, I said ‘guys, look at the scoreboard. You remember when it was ten, because it just became five. The monkey is on their back’.
And that monkey has haunted CSKA Moscow for a third straight Final Four.
“I don’t really have much to say,” CSKA coach Ettore Messina said. “It’s hard to be up for 39 minutes and then lose it in the end. For the first three quarters we played with good discipline, we were controlling the rebounding and the tempo of the game. In the last quarter we didn’t do any of those things.
“We gave up 23 points. We made a lot of little mistakes and that summed up one after another and that led us to losing the game. I’ve seen enough shit in my life and this is serious, but it’s handle able. This is painful. This is different.”
Sasha Kaun led CSKA with 14 points, as they now have to be content with the third placed game on Sunday afternoon.
An early 8-0 run from CSKA put them up 10-4 with Maccabi unable to find any answers at both ends. A bucket from Yogev Ohayon broke the Russian stranglehold and the introduction of Sofoklis Schortsanitis breathed a new lease of life into the Israeli giants. They countered with n 8-0 burst of their own to tie the score at 14-14.
The Muscovites though were quick to respond and a relatively quiet Sonny Seems made sure CSKA had the lead after the first quarter at 19-16.
CSKA’s offence was slick if you took away their end product. Maccabi were flat in the second period, but the Russian side was unable to capitalize on Tel Aviv’s numerous turnovers, which totaled to eight.
When Maccabi got into a rhythm, CSKA hit back immediately. Three points in back-to-back possessions from Tyrese Rice was halted straight away with a three-pointer from Vitaly Fridzon as Moscow led 38-30 at half-time.
A lob from Weems to Sasha Kaun in CSKA’s first offensive play of the third gave the Russians their first double-digit advantage of the game at 40-30. A bucket from Weems then handed the Russians its biggest lead of the game at 55-40.
Slowly but surely Maccabi made their move and a bucket from Devin Smith pulled it to 65-63 in the final minutes.
Maccabi’s patience paid off. CSKA’s inability to finish the Israeli side when they had a chance in the second quarter was one of their downfalls in another Final Four to forget.