MOSCOW - Maccabi Tel Aviv claimed its second Euroleague title in a row and the fifth in the history of the basketball team Sunday evening in Moscow, beating Tau Vitoria 90-78.
The Israeli powerhouse did not quite trounce its Spanish rival, as it did the Italian Skipper Bologna in last year's final in Tel Aviv. Still, Maccabi played strong throughout the game and the victory never appeared in doubt, with the exception of some tense moments in the third quarter.
The win prompted wild celebrations in Tel Aviv, with fans of all ages flocking to the city’s Rabin Square, at one point prompting police to block Ibn Gvirol Street to traffic.
Delirious fans were waving yellow Maccabi flags and the blue-and-white Israeli flags, honking their horns in ecstasy, and dancing on the streets into the night. Bus and cab drivers, too, joined the celebration, making their presence loud and clear with their horns.
'We did it for the fans'
"We did it all for the fans. We love you guys," Maccabi superstar Anthony Parker said after the game. "We were all behind each other. No one was selfish."
Nestor Kommatos, coach Pini Gershon's secret weapon, was the MVP of the first half. Sarunas, who will apparently leave Maccabi for a season in the NBA, led the team to victory in the second half.
When asked how long he plans to continue
playing, the "old man" of the team Derrick Sharp said, "I'll by playing until the wheels fall off."
A beautiful present for Israel
President Moshe Katsav, who was at the stadium in Moscow, told Gershon his team had given Israel's citizens a beautiful present for Independence Day.
"Well done Pini, we admire you and your team of players," he said. "The last few minutes were tense, I was very worried, but now everything is okay."
In response Gershon said, "the first half was a little
boring, so as the coach I made sure to spice things up."
After talking with Katsav, Gershon received the traditional telephone call from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"Our conversations have become a regular thing," Sharon said, referring to last year's similar congratulatory call. "I hope that next year I'll have the same honor in congratulating you and your team on your victory."
Close third quarter
Maccabi dominated the first quarter, even though Tau Vitoria opened up a 5-2 in the first minutes after three points and an assist by the Spanish team's Lithuanian star Arvydas Macijauskas.
Maccabi quickly came back, however, with 10 points in two minutes; five of those points were scored by Sarunas.
The Israeli team continued its strong Performance and finished the quarter up 26-15.
By halftime, Maccabi was hanging on to a comfortable 50-39 lead. The Israeli champion kept a double-digit lead over Tau Vitoria until forward Travis Hanson entered the game, cutting down the Maccabi's lead to 62-60 in the last minute of the third quarter.
In the final quarter, Maccabi’s offense picked up again, and with the help of some excellent defense the gap widened to 74-66.
The final whistle prompted hugs, smiles and tears on the court, as the thousands of Israeli fans continued to roar in the stands and celebrate the victory.
-Yigal Walt also contributed to this report