They can taste it, they can feel it, they can smell it, they are so close and only 40 minutes away.
Maccabi Tel Aviv are on the cusp of punching their ticket to the Euroleague Final Four and all they need is just one more win against Monaco in the Principality. After forcing a decisive game 5 back at Monaco on Wednesday, with an absolute knock out in game 4 to the tune of 104-69 at Yad Eliyahu, the yellow-and-blue need to find a way to pick up a second victory at the Salle Gaston Medicin, a place where they took game one of their quarterfinal series.
The emotions along with the ups and downs of the first four games have been heart pounding with wins, losses, incredible individual performances from both teams and the supporters who have added plenty of color to the series so far.
Whether it has been Lorenzo Brown, Wade Baldwin, Mike James, Jordan Loyd and Mike James all stepping up at one moment or another, the head coaches in Oded Katash and Sasa Obradovic have each added their own flair as well.
However, winning back in Monaco won’t be simple as this series has been a battle of wills, a battle of aggression and a battle of intensity. Whoever has brought it more has come away with the win.
That was the case in game one and game four for Maccabi and the same goes for Monaco in game two and game three. As Lorenzo Brown said after game three, Monaco wanted it a little bit more and that’s what this series has come down to.
Will and desire.
There is no question that Lorenzo Brown has been the quiet leader of Maccabi Tel Aviv. Last summer he paced Spain to a European Championship with an MVP type of tournament that left the yellow-and-blue brass mouthwatering for more. They saw exactly why they had decided to sign the guard. His ability to score, pass, shoot from distance was just what the doctor ordered as they knew full well what kind of winner they had locked up.
As the season continued on and Maccabi ended the campaign with a 7-1 record they were certain that they had gotten the man they wanted and understood that Brown had the goods to lead them to the promised land.
That’s why the club moved swiftly to ink the star guard to an extension in February. If they hadn’t there could have been plenty of second guesses if Brown would have walked after the season. That would have been the last thing Maccabi would have wanted to see.
But their faith and confidence in Brown was been rewarded with a 5th seed in the playoffs and a now a chance to go to the Final Four in Kaunus.
Brown knows what it’s going to take become the first road team to win a game five on the road, “I just want our whole team to know it will be a fight. Hopefully no weak calls. There will be a bunch of scratching and battling.”
As for why Maccabi was able to take game 4 in such dominating fashion, Brown looked back to his comments after the game three loss as to Monaco having wanted it a bit more, “We needed to come out a lot more aggressive and a lot more focused and we need to keep being focused. We need to keep that same mentality going into game 5 in Monaco.”
“They came out with that look in their eyes that they wanted to beat us really bad in game 3, but game four was that game that we had to lock in and get the job done. They are a great team and the matchup is there but we need to come with the mindset that we can beat anybody and that was missing in game 3.”
Coach Katash also looked at how Brown was able to make a shift as to what had gone down in game three to what he was abel to get done in game four, “Regarding Lorenzo, also he, like I said about the other players, was a little quiet [in game three]. I think that over the course of a series there are a lot of different things that happen. His fouls at the beginning of game 3 was frustrating for him because of all the whistles and I think that sometimes, you can say, that he takes it a little personally. But I liked that Lorenzo started very aggressively in game four. It’s not always like that, but that’s how you need to play, especially against an aggressive team like Monaco. I’m proud of him as I am of the other players.”
As for game five Katash knows what to expect after having played two games at their arena less than two weeks ago but he also has a clear idea as to what the game plan should be, “As the series has developed, we know how we want to attack and what we want to do. It will of course be more difficult in their arena with the feeling that it will be more crowded, smaller. But we set the direction of the game four, we did it a little simpler defensively and offensively. We were more aggressive, we ran the court, we controlled the rebounds and our shot selection was good after ball movement. We also managed to punish with 11 offensive rebounds in the first half. That was huge for us.”
Captain John Dibartolomeo also sees the light at the end of the tunnel and knows that this is the moment of truth for the entire team as they head into game five, “It’s a big challenge for us, it’s a tough game and I believe in our team. Obviously we want it badly we put a lot into it. One more win to make the Final Four.”
“It’s exciting and we’re all excited for the opportunity,” Katash said. “As the games are more important and more decisive, we need to focus on the journey. Not that the result isn’t important, because that’s what reduces the stress. We need to focus on the way we’re playing and focus on each game. We need to recover well, arrive ready, arrive focused, play with confidence and not be scared to lose. I think that we need that courage.”
But Brown is only thinking about one thing and one thing only right now and that’s advancing to the Final Four, “That’s the only thing on our mind. This is why we built this team. It’s Maccabi legacy. We want it that bad.”