Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Real Madrid in the Euroleague final after the two heavyweights recorded contrasting wins.
The Israeli side produced a blistering fourth-quarter comeback to stun CSKA Moscow 68-67 in the semi-finals and set up a mouth-watering clash with Real after the winners of a record eight Euroleague titles crushed Spanish rivals Barcelona 100-62.
It's hard for me to even talk about it right now because I feel we beat a better team than us today and we did it in amazing fashion.
CSKA, who beat Maccabi in both regular season meetings this term after defeating the Israeli team in the 2006 and 2008 finals, seemed to be in control after going 55-40 up late in the third quarter but their defence collapsed in the final period.
Roared on by the majority of the fans in the Mediolanum Forum Arena, Maccabi rallied in the last 10 minutes and capped the fightback when guard Tyrese Rice forced a turnover and drove in a lay-up with five seconds remaining.
CSKA coach Ettore Messina shook his head in disbelief as former NBA forward Sonny Weems missed a difficult three-pointer on the buzzer, condemning the trophy-laden Italian to his first defeat in nine meetings with counterpart David Blatt.
“It’s hard for me to even talk about it right now because I feel we beat a better team than us today and we did it in amazing fashion,” said a delighted Blatt who led Russia to the 2007 European Championship title in Spain.
Real’s mighty comeback
The all-Spanish contest was devoid of any such drama as Real overcame an early 12-4 deficit to win their fifth game in six meetings with Barcelona in all competitions this season.
A good start suggested Barcelona would push favourites Real to the limit, like they did in last year’s narrow semi-final defeat at London’s O2 Arena, but they were undone by relentless pace and a barrage of 14 three-pointers.
Playmaker Sergio Rodriguez led the charge with a game-high 21 points.
Montenegrin-born forward Nikola Mirotic added 19 while three other Real players ended in double-scoring digits.
“It is an incredible victory for us after playing really well in the second half,” said Rodriguez.
“We have played many times against Barcelona and we know they are always capable of coming back so we kept our foot on the gas pedal right until the end.”