Representatives of two very familiar adversaries, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos Athens, held their last session with the media on Saturday in advance of the final 2011 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four game to crown a new champion between them at 16:30 CET at Palau Sant Jordi in Barcelona, Spain. The spokesmen for Panathinaikos on the eve of the final were head coach Zeljko Obradovic, a seven-time former champion, and Kostas Tsartsaris, who has lifted two trophies for the Greens, in 2007 and 2009. Maccabi's representatives at the press conference were head coach David Blatt, who won two previous Final Fours as a head coach, and forward Chuck Eidson, who is looking to win the Euroleague title in his first try. Panathinaikos and Maccabi have played four Final Fours since 2000. Panathinaikos won the Euroleague title when they first met in a final in 2000. Maccabi beat the Greens for the SuproLeague title the next year. In 2002, they met for the third consecutive year, with Panathinaikos coming out on top as both Obradovic and Blatt were on the benches. Panathinaikos went on to win that title. And two years later, Maccabi got revenge in the semifinal and won the 2005 title, its second in a row.
Maccabi Electra head coach David Blatt:
“Like Panathinaikos, we at Maccabi Electra are extremely happy to make it to the Euroleague final. I think for the fans as well as the clubs, this is another chapter in a great rivalry between two top level teams and two top clubs. We have met many times before and those games have become part of the history of European basketball. I hope tomorrow’s game will be another. Obviously Panathinaikos is a team of great experience, with a great coach and continuity and quality players. These are the things that bring them to the top again and again. We have some of the same qualities, but this team is part new. But we have come together quickly. We have been consistent. We have grown, suffered adversity with a player going down. We survived that and found a way to play successfully together. My players deserve the highest praise for their character and willingness to accept the system and play together. We know in the final anything can happen, but I hope people will see high-level basketball and all will enjoy.
“This game is a final and of course it’s a little different than any other game. My level of experience will have some influence on my players, but truthfully there is a difference in the level of experience at this level at this time. Historically no, these are two of the most successful clubs in the world, certainly in Europe. But we as a unit have been together a short time and this is our first game of this nature. But it’s not about creating the wheel in a day. We are going to be what we are. And fortunately that’s been pretty good. Will that be enough? We’ll see. But we’ll drive the care we’ve been driving all season."
Maccabi Electra guard Chuck Eidson:
“I just want to say to all my teammate and everyone who helped get us here, ‘thanks.’ And to all the fans in Israel too. When you go to a team like Maccabi, they only talk about Final Fours and finals. When you are in a final, you want to play against the best.
“My father kicked me in the butt if I shot too much. He’s the guy that taught me to appreciate a pass more than a score.
“I’ve had the privilege to play in Lithuania and Israel and those are two countries where it’s a religion more than a sport. And you will see it’s more than a sport. I’m sure the article will be nice and people will read it and say ‘yeah,’ but until you experience it, you can’t tell.
“I challenge any team in Europe to lose their second-, third- best player and see how the team responds. It’s not just me, Tal, Guy Pnini all stepped up, not just one guy. Losing Doron hurt on the court and it hurt off the court. Everyone is excited to be at this point and to win for Doron. We all feel terrible that he’s not playing with us.”
Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic:
"Hello everybody. As member of Panathinaikos, we are really happy to be over here and have the chance to play one more Euroleague final. Everything that has happened this year is a big satisfaction for us. We went through a lot to be in the position to play one more final and I have to thank my players for the excellent job they did. If we want to win the title, we will have to play much better than yesterday. We gave up too many offensive rebounds and picked up many turnovers against Montepaschi Siena. Maccabi is an excellent team with a lot of talent and they showed against Real Madrid last night. We have a good perimeter game, good three-point shooting, inside game and very, very good defense. We have one practice today in which we will try to fix everything to play one good game tomorrow.
"I will probably have to apologize in the name of Diamantidis for not playing at the level everyone expects - I will ask him to have 30 points, 15 assists, 20 rebounds and do everything! (laughs) Diamantidis is a player that always tries to do his best in any moment of the game. He didn't score, but that happened in many, many games since we work together - but in crucial games he knows his role and what to do. I am very satisfied with how he played yesterday, like all of my players. It is almost impossible to have the best game of the year in the Euroleague final. I know - and a lot of my friends talk about it - how good the 2007 final between Panathinaikos and CSKA was. Everybody talks about that game and how good it was. We hope we see a great basketball game tomorrow and everybody enjoys. My players can relax until practice at 15:00, then it will be very different.
"Maccabi is a very talented team, with players able to play one-on-one, solving tough situations in the final seconds of each possession. They have inside game with Sofo and the defenses that Mr. Blatt likes to use are very important in Maccabi's game. We have to prepare the game well and see if we are able to organize our offense and above all, have a good start.
"I will say that in the beginning of the season, our preparation was to play our best games in the playoffs. I am just joking. It is true that we played many good games during the regular season and the Top 16. Everybody saw Barcelona as the favorite in the playoffs - they are a good team and the Final Four is in Barcelona. Everybody had the right to talk like this. We talked to our players about how to play against Barcelona and beat them. We managed to do it and made it to the Final Four. Being here is not our target, but winning another Euroleague title. We will try to do that tomorrow.
"Me and my assistant coaches, as well as our most experienced teammates like Fotsis, Tsartsaris and Diamantidis spent a lot of time talking to Nick Calathes and explaining to him what I want. I hope that he will play his best game of the season tomorrow. He played a very good game last night and I hope it will be a little bit better, like all players, to win the title."
Panathinaikos forward Kostas Tsartsaris:
"Hello everybody. We have one tough game before our big goal of the season. We play against a good team that played really well all season. We have to fix things that went wrong if we want to win the title. There are aspects of the game that we have to improve. We have the experience and everything we need to overcome a bad game last night and win the title.
"I believe it is normal that Sofoklis [Schortsanitis] wants to win the title. It would be the first time for him. We are also here to win the championship. We won’t let Sofo and the other guys get the trophy. We have worked hard to be champions all season long, in practices, games. This is why we came here. I am sure he dreams about being the Euroleague champion, but this is what we came here for, too.
“Nothing surprises me about Nick Calathes. He is working hard every day. Every day he puts something new into his game, trying to be the best for himself and for the team. Eventually, day by day, he has become better. Lately, he has played very well. I believe he has a bright future in front of him."