Maccabi Haifa moved within one win of a return to the BSL final on Tuesday night, while Hapoel Jerusalem will have to register a comeback accomplished only twice in Israeli basketball history or its season will end sooner than expected.
Haifa defeated Jerusalem 82-70 at Romema Arena to take a 2-0 lead in the best-offive BSL semifinal series, building on its emphatic 107-79 victory in Game 1 at Malha Arena last week. Haifa entered the series as the underdog, but has so far outplayed Jerusalem and needs just one more victory to book its place in the final and edge closer to defending its championship.
Jerusalem hosts Game 3 at Malha on Friday and has left itself with a mountain to climb, with only two teams erasing 0-2 defeats in the Israeli playoffs since the format was introduced in the 1989/90 season.
After scoring its highest point total of the season in Game 1, Haifa relied on its defense on Tuesday. The Greens took a two-point lead (34-32) into the halftime interval before pulling ahead in the third quarter and keeping Jerusalem at bay until the final buzzer.
Donta Smith led five Haifa players in double figures with 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds. Brian Randle contributed 15 points and 10 boards, while Dagan Yavzuri scored 14 and Adrian Henning added 12 points.
Randle brushed aside any notion that Haifa has already all but won the series.
“It’s never easy to play Jerusalem,” he said. “This is a five game series. It is far from over. We know that and they know that.”
Josh Duncan had 22 points and 16 rebounds for Jerusalem, with Bracey Wright netting 14 points.
After allowing its highest point total in local league action since the 2008/09 season in Game 1, Jerusalem was far more composed on the defensive end to start Tuesday’s encounter.
The visitors held Haifa to just 13 points in the first 10 minutes, with Yotam Halperin’s basket to end the first quarter giving Jerusalem a 20-13 gap.
However, Hapoel couldn’t maintain the intensity and it was Haifa which had a twopoint edge (34-32) at the break.
The Greens built on their lead at the start of the second half, with four consecutive points by Smith capping a 9-0 run which opened a double-digit margin (47-37) for the first time.
Haifa still held a 10-point gap (59-49) ahead of the final 10 minutes, but Jerusalem wouldn’t go away without a fight, closing to within five points (67-62) midway through the fourth frame following Wright’s free throws.
However, Hapoel would come no closer, with a Henning dunk reestablishing a double-figure gap (76-64) with two minutes to play which Jerusalem never came close to erasing.