Who needs the newly crowned Euroleague MVP when you have Tyrese Rice on your side.
Rice’s game-high 26 points propelled Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv to Euroleague title glory for the first time since 2005 by beating Real Madrid 98-86 after a session of overtime in Milan on Sunday night.
Despite shooting 5/18 from the field, Ricky Hickman added 18 points with Alex Tyus grabbing a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
This was the 50th encounter between the two teams in what is one of European club basketball’s most repeated clashes. For Real Madrid, it’s a second straight defeat in the Final.
For the joyous Israelis of Tel Aviv: The city of Milan will be a sea of yellow and blue.
Rice though had the chance to win it in regulation, but his three missed its mark. In the end though, it didn’t matter. The Washington-born guard hit 14 of his 26 points in overtime for the win.
“Missing [the shot] in regulation, I was pretty mad,” Rice admitted afterwards. “That’s a shot that me and Ricky [Hickman] make everyday after practice, I mean every single day and coach [Blatt] is telling us ‘go home, get out of the gym’ if he hears the balls bouncing in the gym he knows that’s me and Ricky, but I was a little disappointed in myself.
“In the overtime, we got the necessary stops, we hit everything too, we rebounded the basketball, we fought and clawed on defence and we made our free throws down the stretch.”
For coach David Blatt, who said afterwards that he would like a job in the NBA but admits to not being a first choice – he finally gets the title of Euroleague champion on his extremely impressive resume. He has tasted success internationally with Russia, but this is a sweet feeling.
Ever the great thinker, Blatt started his post-game speech by quoting the late owner of Apple, Steve Jobs.
“One of the great quotes was from the last moments of Steven Jobs’ life … he said before he passed away, he said ‘WOW’,” Blatt commented. “In basketball, and in sport everyday isn’t a great day. You have tough days, you have disappointments, you have obstacles, you have problems and the way that you deal with those things and the attitude that you take from that determines how you’re going to go forward and how you’re going to be successful and as a coach whether you’re going to lead your men to bigger and better things or lead them out the dark when they don’t see.
“This is a great, great day for our players, for our club, for our fans and I think for basketball in general. What you saw was a team that definitely wasn’t the most talented on an individual level. I don’t say that we don’t have any talent. We have talent, but it wasn’t the most talented as a group of individuals. But as a team we were the best team. The result proves it and the way we did it proves it.”
Sergio Rodriguez led Real Madrid with 21 points, but strangely only saw 1:20 on court, and only scoring three points in those five minutes in the extra period. Felipe Reyes, who had 12 points also sat out for long stretches when the team cried out for a forward to do some damage inside, especially with Maccabi’s Sofoklis Schortsanitis fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“They were better than us,” Rodriguez said. “All I can do is give credit to them. They handled the situation better in the second half, now we have to keep working and try to win our domestic title, then come back next season.”
Rudy Fernandez began proceedings with a triple; Maccabi would reply right back, as both teams showed no signs of nerves in the early going. Every play was met with rapturous cheers. A block from Nikola Mirotic on David Blu, five quickfire points from Devin Smith, each team’s respective supporters greeted it all.
A bucket from Fernandez, towards the end of the first quarter began a 9-0 run giving Real a 16-13 lead before Alex Tyus made sure Maccabi trailed by only one after the first ten minutes.
The Spanish league leaders opened the second with a 10-0 run. Frustrations began to get the better of even of the most experienced of heads, as coach Blatt was called for a technical. Real Madrid enjoyed a 26-15 lead and threatened to pull themselves out of sight.
Reminiscent of their comeback against CSKA though, Maccabi fought back again, and a 7-0 finish, all by David Blu put the Israeli giants within two points at the half, they trailed 35-33, but the momentum was with the Tel Aviv.
An emotional Blatt leaving the arena, shaking his fists in appreciation to the hoards of Maccabi fans highlighted the passion involved.
The third was a game of tug-of-war by both sides. Madrid clung on to the lead until a tip by Tyus gave Maccabi the lead at 46-45.
It was bedlam inside the packed Mediolanum Forum.
Real Madrid wrestled the lead back and hung on, entering the fourth quarter, up 55-53.
Tyus tied the game at 55-55 to start the fourth quarter, Rodriguez replied with a three-pointer, and a bucket then followed that from Ricky Hickman and a three from Rice swung the pendulum back in Maccabi’s favour.
With the seconds ticking; the score tied at 73-73 and Maccabi with the last possession, it was left to Rice for a chance to win the Euroleague crown. His three though, was long. The ball was tipped around, but Ioannis Bourousis got it away from harms way as the buzzer sounded. The game was forced to go the extra mile.
Then Rice stepped his game up. He connected from the free throw line to give his side a 78-77 lead and it was to be Maccabi’s advantage for good. They might have spent a lot of time at the foul line, but they made them count, that’s what mattered the most.