Maccabi deserved Euroleague title, says Pnini

By Simon Griver, May 23, 2014
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Guy Pnini described Maccabi Tel Aviv’s epic victory in the Euroleague final as "a dream come true".

The Israeli club were crowned champions of Europe for a sixth time after beating Real Madrid 98-86 in overtime in the final in Milan.

More than 10,000 fans painted the Italian city yellow on Sunday and tens of thousands more filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Monday night to welcome home their heroes — a team that few believed were capable of taking the crown.

Maccabi captain Guy Pnini said: "I've grown up with this club and it was just fantastic to make the final-four.

"We're a team that just never gives up and we really deserved this."

Maccabi coach David Blatt has been linked with a number of vacant NBA positions since the final. He rejected suggestions that his team is mediocre.

"I disagree," he said. "This team is worthy European champions. We always play the right basketball in terms of tactics, team play, amazing personal character and most important of all, we believe in ourselves."

The team received praise from President Shimon Peres who revealed he “watched the whole game and nearly had a heart attack”. Mr Peres said: “You were an example of determination. You are heroes and have brought incredible pride to the state of Israel."

On the court, the biggest hero was man-of-the-match Tyrese Rice who scored a 26 points in the final as Maccabi squandered a four-point lead in the final minute, but dominated in overtime.

Rice had also starred with 13 points in the semi-final against CSKA Moscow when Maccabi incredibly clawed back a 15-point deficit at the end of the third quarter to triumph 68-67, with the winning basket from Rice coming just five seconds from the buzzer.

Another star in both matches was forward David Blu, a 33-year-old American Jew, who announced his retirement after the victory.

But it is Blatt who is being acknowledged as the mastermind - enabling a team on a fraction of the budget of both CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid to conquer Europe.

Although Maccabi are confident that Blatt will stay on, the 54-year-old American has yet to commit.

Having led Russia to bronze at the London Olympics in 2012, Blatt had been linked with a move to CSKA Moscow before the final four stage. But after taking the European title against all the odds, there is now reportedly interest in the NBA with the Utah Jazz and New York Knicks in the frame.

Blatt said: "I would be very interested in a head coaching job in the NBA and there is no doubt in my mind that I could do the job."

Last updated: 11:31am, May 23 2014