It's time to paint the basketballs yellow instead of orange! The Euroleague has a new champion tonight after Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Skipper Bologna 118-74 in a record-breaking show never before seen in European basketball. Maccabi won with the most points by the biggest difference ever, going back almost 50 years since the start of European pro basketball. Maccabi's spectacular blowout punctuated a season that has lifted European basketball to new and greater heights. Before one of the most euphoric crowds in basketball history, Maccabi made a dream of the entire country of Israel come true without any bit of suspense. From the opening tap, Maccabi ruled its home floor at Nokia Arena, soaring to a 25-point halftime lead and never looking back. It marked the fourth time that Maccabi has lifted a cup as a continental champion. Though it had a home crowd of 10,458 was fully behind it, Maccabi took nothing for granted. Its 55 first-half points was a record in the Final Four era, and it's defense was just as impressive. By the middle of the third quarter, it was showtime, as the Final MVP, Anthony Parker, rocked the rim with reverse dunks and Sarunas Jasikevicius dropped triples. The party had long since begun in the stands, and the celebration will not stop anytime soon. Maccabi is champion of Europe, and there was no doubt about it!
It was a night of major numbers for Maccabi, who broke 10 separate records in the modern Final Four era. The protagonists were many. Parker was almost flawless, finishing with 21 points and missing only 2 shots from the field. David Bluthenthal came off the bench and boosted Maccabi with 20 points in just 16 minutes, including 4 three-pointers. Jasikevicius also hit 4 from downtown, while scoring 18 points in just 17 minutes. Tal Burstein had the game's only double-double, 17 points and 10 rebounds in 36 minutes, more playing time than anyone. Maccabi made an incredible 71% of its two-point shots (28 for 38) and 61% of its threes (14 for 23). Skipper could not keep up from the start, but had a good game out of Milos Vujanic, with 21 points. Gianluca Basile and Gianmarco Pozzecco added 10 points each for Skipper, which was playing in its first-ever final.
For the record, Matjaz Smodis opened the scoring with a layup on Skipper's first possession. But that was the last time Skipper would lead. Maccabi took its first lead with a triple by Sarunas Jasikevicius that brought down the house. Anthony Parker then blocked a fastbreak layup by Milos Vujanic, and at the other end, Jasikevicius drilled his second triple. Parker then made a three-point play, forcing Skipper coach Jasmin Repesa to called time ut after 3 minutes with the score 9-2. With the noise at deafening levels, Skipper went scoreless for nearly 4 minutes until Delfino knocked down 2 free throws. With Skipper already in the bonus, Jasikevicius knocked down two free throws and Maccabi's lead surged to 13-4 after a Parker breakaway layup. Skipper switched to a small lineup with Stefano Mancinelli at the power forward spot, but they still couldn't find success, missing 6 field goals in a row while committing 3 turnovers. Maccabi couldn't have played better, as Vujcic followed Bluthental's turnaround jumper with 2 more foul shots for a 19-5 lead. Basile stepped up for Skipper with a three-pionter, Skipper's first field goal since the first possession of the game. Yotam Halperin and Tal Burstein combined 4 points in the final 2 minutes, then a seven-meter three off an inbound pass by Bluthenthal gave Maccabi a 31-13 lead after 10 minutes.
Maccabi pushed its lead to 20 points on a long two-pointer by Vujcic on the first possession of the second quarter, but Skipper responded with a 2-8 run with baskets from Delfino, Vujanic and Mottola that made the score 35-21. That's as close as Skipper was going to get. Skipper's momentum was quickly halted by Bluthenthal, who scored 6 points on a 8-2 run. Skipper ran into trouble when Smodis picked up his third foul and would sit for the rest of the quarter. Gianluca Basile dropped in a jump shot, but Maccabi scored the next 4 points and Skipper still couldn't find its rhythm. Parker added salt to Skipper's wounds when he beat the shot clock with a five-meter jumper with less than five minutes to play in the half. On the next play Bluthenthan pushed Maccabi's edge back to 20 points, 43-23. Skipper couldn't find answers on offense without a low-post presence and its triples continued to miss. Skipper made only 2 of 11 from long range in the first half. Now, Skipper couldn't stop Maccabi from getting shots near the basket, as the lead hit 51-27 after a Gur Shelef lay-in with just over a minute remaining in the half. Gianmarco Pozzecco knocked down a three-pointer, but Maccabi grabbed its biggest lead, 55-30, after scoring the final 5 points. Maccabi set a new record of most points scored in the first half of a Euroleague final, as Philips Milano (1988) and Kinder Bologna (2001) shared the previous record at 52.
Maccabi opened the second half with a powerful basket by Baston, who blocked Mottola's shot in the other end. The Israeli champs carried on playing at full intensity in both sides of the floor and their biggest lead of the game at that point, 28 points, on a Burstein free throw one minute into the quarter. Vujanic made his first triple of the game, but Jasikevicius cancelled it with a three that boosted Maccabi's lead to 64-38. Parker followed with a highlight-worthy two-handed reverse slam plus foul over Delfino, sending the crowd into ecstacy. Skipper did not give up, however, and fired back with a 0-10 run in which Vujanic had 5 points and Mottola nailed a three-pointer which brought the Italians within 64-45. Jasikevicius cut off the Skipper rally with a pull-up jumper and Baston punctuated Maccabi's play with a reverse dunk that gave Maccabi a 71-48 lead. Vujanic scored his 20th point with a floating layup, but Parker answered with 5 points in a row to give Maccabi a 80-51 lead at the end of the third quarter.
The tide was coming in, against Skipper's favor, and Maccabi did not let up. The hosts' margin was pushed to 106-65 on another Bluthenthal shot and there was not hope for Skipper. Basile made a three, Jasikevicius matched that on the other end, as Maccabi's shooting clinic had begun. Jasikevicius, Burstein and Shelef powered the team, and Bluthental drilled his fourth three-pointer to extend its lead to 95-57 as Maccabi set a new record for most points in a final. There were tears if joy in the stands, while the whole country got ready for a long, long night of celebration. Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team that represents Israel best all around the world, more than a team to most of its citizens, has succeeded in his biggest goal of the season: become the new Euroleague champion on its own court at Nokia Arena!
Saturday, May 1, 2004