Maccabi Haifa's Gal Mekel 370.
(photo credit: Lilach Weis/BSL)
Maccabi Haifa will have the opportunity to play for the BSL championship in its home arena after advancing to the league final on Sunday night with a tense 71-68 win over Hapoel Eilat to complete a 3-2 victory in a dramatic playoff semifinal series.
Haifa was in danger of becoming just the second team in Israeli basketball history to squander a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series after Eilat forced a Game 5 last week.
The decider typified the entire series and it was only appropriate that it was to be settled at the final buzzer.
After taking a five-point cushion (46-41) into the break, Haifa held the lead throughout the second half, including by as many as nine points (58-49).
However, Eilat never lost touch and the hosts breathed a huge sigh of relief after Larry O’Bannon missed a three-pointer in the closing seconds that could have sent the game in Romema Arena into overtime.
Haifa will be back in Romema on Thursday for the final against Maccabi Tel Aviv, hoping to win a first championship against the yellow-and-blue, which is aiming to claim a 51st league title.
“This was a great series,” said Haifa coach Brad Greenberg.
“Our guys deserve a lot of credit.”
Donta Smith had 21 points, six rebounds and five assists for Haifa, with Pat Calathes adding 18 points and Paul Stoll contributing 15 points and nine steals.
“This is unbelievable,” said Stoll. “Eilat is a great team, but we played as a group. No one gave us a chance to get to the final but we did it.”
Stoll was confident Haifa can give Maccabi a run for its money in Thursday’s final.
”Maccabi is Maccabi. I had heard about them even before I had heard of Israel,” he said.
“We have yet to beat them this year and lost to them in the State Cup final. But we have a strong team and we are ready.
We have worked hard all year to get to this stage and we’ll see what unfolds on Thursday.”
O’Bannon led Eilat with 21 points, while Eli Holman scored 16.
Eilat coach Oded Katash was understandably disappointed after losing a playoff series for the first time in his career.
”I’m very proud of my players,” he said. “We had an amazing season and it is difficult for me to accept that it has now ended.”
Also Sunday, Maccabi Tel Aviv announced that it has added two new American partners to its ownership group.
Richard Deitz, the founder and president of VR Capital Group, purchased a 17.5 percent stake, with Ben Ashkenazy, CEO and chairman of the Ashkenazy Acquisition private real estate investment firm, to hold 10 percent.
The Recanati and Federman families now each own a 29 percent stake, with long-time chairman Shimon Mizrahi holding 14.5%.