Sagesse, Mouttahed prepare for Final Four battle

BEIRUT: The first day of the playoffs Final Four action gets underway Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in Ghazir Stadium where Sagesse host Mouttahed in their best-of-five series.

This will be the first playoffs meeting between the sides since 2008 when Mouttahed ousted their opponents 3-2 on their way to reaching the finals for the first time in their history, before they eventually fell against Riyadi 3-1.

Sagesse boast a deep lineup with star players at the positions in which Mouttahed have been hottest lately.

Veteran forward Marc Salyers and guard Eric Chatfield have been the major producers for the Tripoli side in recent weeks, alongside power forward Bassel Bawji, and Sagesse will turn to Julian Khazzouh and Deshawn Sims as the designated tandem to wear down Salyers.

The American forward has proved many people wrong after a brilliant performance in the final eight following a slow start early in the season. He helped Mouttahed beat Sagesse twice in the final eight, posting 26 and 37 points respectively.

Sagesse can choose from Rodrigue Akl and Mohammad Ibrahim as their primary ball handlers.

Swingman Quincy Douby rounds out the perimeter attack, as Sagesse haven’t lost in five games since the arrival of the former Sacramento Kings player. He has averaged 26 points and 4.6 assists per game thus far and the Tripoli side need to find a way to stop him.

“We have been trying to keep the team away from all the administrative problems surrounding the club, and I think we have succeeded at that, coming to this point,” said Sagesse’s head coach Fouad Abou Chakra regarding the unyeilding political problems around the club.

“We hope we can surpass Mouttahed and reach the finals to prove a greater point to people that Sagesse are meant to be competitive. Mouttahed is a great team with superb foreign players, we lost to them twice recently and you can always learn from that. We are fresh and looking for a new start in a very competitive phase,” he added.

Abou Chakra’ side face an injury concern, as Elie Stephan will not be back before the finals, if his team were to make it there, after enduring a shoulder injury in the second game of the quarterfinals series against Hoops, while starting swingman Elie Rustom is still not 100 percent ready as he is still nursing an injury in his ankle.

“We are working day and night, so that Elie [Rustom] can be ready to play [Thursday], especially that [Elie] Stephan will not be back until the finals,” the head coach said.

“I urge all our fans to support us on our home court, we have a difficult series and we need them to be there for us in big numbers like they were all throughout the season.”

The Greens are favorites, especially with the home-court advantage; but this season’s Mouttahed team have a propensity to be streaky and are as tough as they come when firing on all cylinders. After winning a pair of games with their backs to the wall just to reach the final four, a pressure-free Mouttahed side could be quite dangerous. Sagesse need some time as well to find their tempo, playing their last game on May 5 but they will hope to gel quickly as the result of Game 1 could prove crucial.

“Both teams are playing great recently, the most important thing for us is to try and take the series game by game. We still haven’t played against their new guard [Quincy] Douby so we have to be ready to adjust with any situation on court,” said 24-year-old power forward Bassel Bawji.

“We also have to rebound as a team because we have a little size disadvantage under the basket. We are ready and after reaching our first target [semifinals] we are now concentrating on the second target, which is making the finals,” he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 23, 2013, on page 14.




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