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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CSKA Collapses as Maccabi Triumphs

ReutersCSKA's David Andersen leaving the court dejectedly Friday after his club's Euroleague semifinal loss to Tau Ceramica.
What had been planned as a return to the pinnacle of European basketball for the Red Army team on the eve of Victory Day spiraled into a demoralizing spectacle Sunday as heavily favored CSKA Moscow lost the second of its two games to finish last in the Euroleague Final Four. The host team's collapse left the door open for Maccabi Tel Aviv to capture its second consecutive title in front of thousands of jubilant Israeli fans at Moscow's Olimpiisky Stadium.

Led by 23 points from Lithuanian sharpshooter Arvydas Macijauskas, Tau Ceramica of Spain handed CSKA a stunning 85-78 loss in the second semifinal matchup Friday night in front of 13,500 fans, crushing the Moscow club's dream of winning the Euroleague, Europe's premier club competition -- the basketball equivalent of European soccer's Champions League.

With only pride and a third-place trophy to play for, the Red Army team proceeded to blow a 22-point lead in Sunday's consolation game to lose 94-91 in double overtime to the Greek club Panathinaikos, which lost 91-82 to Maccabi in Friday's first semifinal.

In Sunday's final, Maccabi -- with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists from point guard Sarunas Jasikevicius -- captured its second straight Euroleague title by downing Tau 90-78. Maccabi is the first team to win consecutive Euroleague titles since 1991, while it was three in a row for Jasikevicius, who led Barcelona to the title in 2003 and won with Maccabi last year.

Regardless of the Israeli club's historic performance, however, the 2005 Final Four may be remembered for the final game that never was: defending champion Maccabi versus CSKA, the most dominant team in Europe this year.

CSKA had plowed through the Euroleague competition this season, coming into the tournament as the heavy favorite with a 21-1 record and set to face off against a Tau team that finished with a regular season record of 10-10, and an 0-2 record against CSKA.

With a budget of well over $20 million and Europe's deepest lineup -- which includes All-Euroleague first-team forward David Andersen and last year's Euroleague MVP Marcus Brown -- CSKA was banking on winning the title in front of its home crowd on the eve the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany on May 9. CSKA General Manager Sergei Kushchenko said last month that the club would accept nothing less than a Euroleague title, which would have been the club's first title since 1971.

The magnitude of the disaster for Russian basketball was summed up by the front-page headline of Saturday's Sport-Express following CSKA's loss to Tau: "Titanic -- 2005."

At a news conference after the loss to Tau, CSKA head coach Dusan Ivkovic said the burden of being the favorite in front of the home crowd may have overwhelmed his team.

"They didn't play their usual game, and it's clear we felt pressure, because we did not finish any fastbreaks," Ivkovic said.

CSKA's atrocious foul shooting was another sign that the team struggled mentally to live up to expectations. The team made just 10 of 28 foul shots.

"Maybe pressure made us miss free throws, but I don't know what happened," team captain Sergei Panov said after the game. "If I knew what it was, it would have not happened."

The title had eluded the club each of the past two years -- with CSKA crashing out both times in the Final Four semifinals to the home team -- Barcelona in 2003 and Maccabi in 2004.

While CSKA played on edge at critical moments in the tournament, Maccabi came out loose in both games and stuck to its high-octane offense.


Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

Maccabi fans celebrating their team's victory over Tau Ceramica in the final of the Euroleague Final Four on Sunday.

What's more, the Israeli club may just as well have been playing in its own stadium, the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. Maccabi was expecting 3,000 of its fans, the loudest and most devoted in Europe, but there were no less than 5,000 fans at both games in yellow Maccabi T-shirts smothering the meager efforts of opposing fans with their chanting and singing. During Sunday's final, Israeli men could be seen demonstratively praying for a Maccabi victory.

After the final buzzer sounded in Sunday's final, Maccabi fans lit flares waved Israeli flags and team banners while 100 OMON officers stood braced at courtside to keep the crowd from spilling on to the floor.

"The atmosphere in the game was great," Maccabi center Nikola Vujcic said. "It looked like the whole Nokia Arena was here. It was really nice, and made all players feel ready for the game and to take the title back to Tel Aviv."

Flanked by 20 bodyguards, Israeli President Moshe Katsav, in town for the Victory Day celebrations, came onto the floor during the post-game celebration to personally congratulate Maccabi head coach Pini Gershon.

The star of the tournament without question was fiery floor general Jasikavicius, 29, who is expected to take his game to the NBA next season, with several teams in the world's top league expressing interest in his services.

But when asked whether he would confirm his move to North America next season, Jasikevicius showed no desire to break the hearts of Maccabi fans while they were celebrating their championship.

"You guys keep asking me that question," Jasikevicius said. "I'm not going to answer it."