|One day before Panathinaikos flew to Tel Aviv needing a victory over Maccabi Electra to keep its repeat hopes alive, Mike Batiste was busy taking care of family first, bringing his two-year-old son to the doctor for a slight cold. Batiste was not concerned about sneezing once or twice himself, either. "They could cut my legs off and I'd still go on the court and play in this series," he said, only half-joking. No one is more aware than Batiste of the risk the Greens face starting Tuesday in Game 3 of a best-of-five playoff tied 1-1. Batiste posted career highs of 6 offensive rebounds and 6 assists in Game 2, but still Panathinaikos lost at home in overtime. Also in that game, he broke the Euroleague's all-time record for two-point baskets this century, 852. Only two players with at least half as many two-pointers have made them at a better rate than Batiste's 60.4% over 10 seasons. But if there's risk in Tel Aviv, there is also opportunity, as Batiste knows. He was part of a Panathinaikos team in the exact same situation in 2009 that won back-to-back in Siena and proceeded to take that season's trophy. This time, there's the added factor of an incredible tradition between Panathinaikos and Maccabi, one which Batiste feels as much as anyone. "The battles between these two teams are probably some of the greatest games ever seen in basketball anywhere," Batiste told Euroleague.net. "I'm very aware of it and I know this series will add to the legacy of this rivalry over the years."
Mike, let's go right to the matter at hand. Game 3 on Tuesday in Tel Aviv. How big is this Game 3 on your personal scale of big games?
"It's really big, especially for my team, because we lost our homecourt advantage. Our goal is to get that advantage back on Tuesday. It's do-or-die for us. We're not really looking at all to Game 4. We're focused on Game 3 as something that's pretty much life or death. We know it's a tough job. Maccabi plays extremely well at home. Lots of players play different at home. It's going to be a great game. We just have to concentrate on a high level and fight until the end. And I think we'll be successful."
People are talking about Game 2 as one of the best ever between two teams that have played several semifinals and title games. What was your perspective from down on the court?
"It was a thrill to be part of. Great players all for both sides all over the court were making big shots. It went to extra time and came down to the end of that, too. This is how you as a player want to play games and how fans want to see games, with two very competitive teams fighting until the very last second. Game 2 was great for fans; unfortunately, my team came up short, and we're not happy with the result. So I'm just focused now on getting the flight Monday and getting down there to play on Tuesday."
But in Game 1, Panathinaikos dominated. How do you explain the difference between Game 1 and Game 2?
"Defensively, we played really well in the first game. In the second game, I don't think we played up to the level of defense that we're capable of playing. Maccabi did a lot of isolations and one-on-ones that punished us. On Saturday at practice, we watched video and went over small details. All the things that happened were correctable and are corrected. Now, we hope those minor changes will help us in the third game. We'll be ready."
Are the adjustments from game to game in a playoff more mental or tactical?
"They are both. From a mental standpoint, first, we are going now to Tel Aviv and we'll play against their fans as well as their team. Nokia Arena there is very, very noisy, and those fans stay behind their team until the end. Maccabi has probably some of the greatest fans support of any team in the world. So mentally, we have to prepare ourselves for that. Tactically, you have to concentrate and focus on the gameplan, on what your assignments from the coaches are and on doing what you need to do to make sure the team wins. So the adjustments now are both mental and tactical."
Looking back, it's easy to say that repeating as Euroleague champ is tough, because it has only happened once in 21 years. How difficult does that challenge feel now, in the heat of the battle?
"It's always difficult to win it at all. This is the first time we've got past the Top 16 the year after winning the Euroleague, so that's a step further than in years past. Now, in the middle of the battle, it feels difficult as ever, but the road to the Final Four is never easy. Never easy to get there and never easy to win it. So in that way, we're in the same position now as always. But we know what it takes to win. We know that it's difficult as possible, but it is possible, because we've done it. Right now, like I said, it's about concentrating at the highest level on Game 3. There's no Game 4 in our minds now, because Game 3 is do-or-die."
You set your Euroleague career high for assists and offensive rebounds in Game 2. Plus you got the all-time mark for two-point shots made. Is that proof that Mike Batiste wants this as much as ever?
"Of course. It's never better for me right now. As long as I stay healthy and keep my body fit, I think I can play at a high level regardless of age. I don't know when I'll quit, because I am still loving basketball and having fun. Regardless of age, I can still contribute at a high level with experience and leadership to help any team. Yes, I am getting older, but at the same time, I feel that I'm getting wiser and smarter. As long as my health is there, I can contribute."
As you head to Tel Aviv for Game 3, are you conscious of being a part of one of the great basketball rivalries ever, Panathinaikos vs. Maccabi?
"I'm very concisous of it. When I came to Europe, I was lacking in the history of Panathinaikos and the other great European basketball clubs. But year by year, as you learn about the history of European basketball, the Panathinaikos and Maccabi teams stand out and their rivalry almost stands alone. The battles between these two teams are probably some of the greatest games ever seen in basketball anywhere. I'm very aware of it and I know this series will add to the legacy of this rivalry over the years."
Panathinaikos was in the same spot in 2009, but went to Siena and won twice on your way to the title. Can that experience help you guys now?
"For some of us, sure: me, Diamantidis, Stratos Perperoglou, Saras, Tsartsaris. All of us were there in the same situation we are now. It's just a handful of us, but at the same time, we can use leadership to bring that experience to the other guys here. We'll let them know that it's not easy, but if we concentrate all 40 minutes, everything is possible."
What specifically does Panathinaikos need to do to win in Tel Aviv?
"Defense. I'm not worried about our offense. I think our offense is pretty good, the way we're making jump shots, playing in rhythm. But on defense we've got to get back to what we did best in Game 1; get stops and make it difficult for them to score baskets and get in their own rhythm. We know that we're capable of doing this, because we've proven all year that we're a good road team, and every year when we needed to do it, we won on the road. Now it's time to step up, meet the challenge and get the victory again."
Playoff games in OAKA one week and Nokia Arena the next, with those crowds, the tradition, the competitiveness: does anything top this?
"No. Nothing at all. Playing at OAKA and playing at Nokia in the playoffs is just something you want to be part of if you are a basketball player. Nothing gets you going more than playing in arenas like this for fans like these. With the great crowds at OAKA and Nokia, you're going to be motivated to play to the best of your ability for them. I, for one, am going to be ready for that on Tuesday."