Maccabi Haifa maintained its perfect start to the BSL playoffs on Sunday night with an 87-75 victory over Hapoel Eilat at Romema Arena in Game 1 of the best-of-five semifinal series.

Haifa swept Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 3-0 in the quarterfinals and hit the ground running on Sunday, beginning the night with a 9-0 run and ending the first quarter with a 16-0 surge to open a 21-point margin (29- 8) from which Eilat couldn’t recover.

”I’m very satisfied,” said Haifa coach Brad Greenberg. “We did a good job but we need to keep working on our game ahead of Game 2.

I’ll take a performance like this any time.”

Donta Smith led five Haifa players in double-figures with 19 points, seven assists and six rebounds, with Gal Mekel ending the night with 17 points, six assists and five boards and Pat Calathes contributing 17 points and 11 rebounds.

”We were very sharp at the start of the game. I can’t remember a quarter in which we played with such intensity,” said Mekel. “But as the cliché goes, this was just one game and we have already turned our focus to Game 2.”

Afik Nissim had 16 points for Eilat, which hosts Game 2 on Wednesday night.

”This game just proves that sometimes talking about things isn’t sufficient,” said Eilat coach Oded Katash.

“They killed us on the fast-break and the first quarter buried us. We have been talking about their open-court game since we advanced to the semis, but my players clearly didn’t understand it. We have dug ourselves a hole, but this is just one game. We will return to our home court and fans on Wednesday and we will be ready.”

A Mekel three-pointer gave the hosts a quick nine-point gap (9-0) and Eilat looked shell-shocked after Chanan Colman’s triple at the end of the first frame (29-8).

Eilat managed to close to within 14 points (43-29) by the break and a Scotty Hopson dunk brought the visitors within just six points with six minutes to play in the third quarter (70-64).

However, the southerners would come no closer, with Haifa scoring the next nine points to reestablish a double-digit cushion and take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Today, Maccabi Tel Aviv hosts Hapoel Jerusalem in Game 1 of their semifinal series at Nokia Arena. Tensions between the two arch-rivals grew in the past week over the services of forward Josh Duncan. Reports last week connected the Jerusalem player with a move to Maccabi next season, angering Hapoel officials. Maccabi vehemently denied making any contact with Duncan or his representatives, but that didn’t stop Jerusalem chairman Jacob Liraz from attacking the yellow-and-blue, claiming that Maccabi leaked the story on purpose.

On court, Maccabi enters the series as a firm favorite after sweeping Hapoel Tel Aviv 3-0 in the quarterfinals.

Jerusalem was pushed to a fifth game by Barak Netanya, but triumphed on the road in the decisive contest to reach the last four. While the fate of the series seems to depend solely on Maccabi, Hapoel can draw some encouragement from beating Tel Aviv at Nokia in their most recent meeting earlier this month.

”We haven’t played in a while and that is something we will have to find a solution for,” said Tel Aviv coach David Blatt, who has an amazing 25-0 record in the playoffs at Maccabi.

“Jerusalem has experienced plenty of highs and lows this season, but it certainly has many weapons and has a quality roster.”

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