With only two teams managing to erase a 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five series in Israel since the playoff format was introduced in the 1989/90 season, Hapoel Eilat knows that a home victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv in Game 2 of their BSL semifinal series on Monday night is absolutely crucial if it has any intention of knocking out the newly crowned Euroleague champion.
Despite spending much of last week celebrating a sixth European championship title in club history, Maccabi cruised to a 90-72 win in Game 1 at Nokia Arena on Thursday, improving to 4-0 against Eilat this season.
After a tight first half, Maccabi moved up a gear after the break, holding Eilat to just 32 points total in the third and fourth quarters.
Eilat was hoping to bring Maccabi back down to earth and make the most of its Final Four fatigue, but it posed no threat to the yellow- and-blue after the break, unlike in their three previous meetings this season when Oded Katash’s team gave David Blatt’s men a run for their money until the final minutes.
“Against Maccabi you have to be composed and aggressive for 40 minutes,” said Katash. “We weren’t ready enough from a mental standpoint in Game 1. We didn’t take advantage of Maccabi’s poor shooting in the first half and we have plenty to improve on. Nevertheless, we are still only trailing 1-0 and I hope we will be ready to win in Game 2.”
Blatt hopes his team can build on its display in Game 1.
“The Israeli championship is very important to us and we wanted to make a statement in Game 1 that our season hasn’t finished yet,” said Blatt.
Game 2 of the series between Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa will be played on Tuesday, with Haifa aiming to move into a 2-0 lead after claiming an emphatic 107-79 road win at Malha Arena.
Defending champion Haifa struggled to overcome Ironi Ness Ziona in five games in the quarters, but quickly found its range at Malha. Jerusalem will be desperate to regain home-court advantage on Tuesday and guard Yotam Halperin is confident his team can do so with a victory at Romema Arena.
“The final margin ultimately has no meaning and we have lost just one game,” said Halperin. “It is a shame we lost home-court advantage to Haifa because we worked very hard all season to earn it. We have already won in Haifa this season, as well as in tougher arenas, and we understand Game 2 is extremely crucial for us.”