Mac TA faces off with Haifa for championship

Coaching takes center stage as Blatt and Greenberg vie for BSL title tonight at Romema.

June 12, 2013 23:27
3 minute read.

Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa will meet for the sixth time this season when they face off in the BSL final at Romema Arena on Thursday night.

Tel Aviv has won all five previous showdowns.

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Nevertheless, there is a real belief throughout the Haifa organization that their time has arrived.

The fact that the championship game will be played for the first time in Haifa’s home arena combined with the team’s competitiveness against the yellow-and-blue in previous encounters means the Greens are in an optimistic mood ahead of Thursday.

In their first meeting of the season in early October, Haifa led by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter, but a 19-4 Tel Aviv run clinched an 86-79 win in the pre-season Winner Cup semifinals at Romema.

All three of their regular season contests were also only decided in the final frame, including their most recent game on April 25, won 76-72 by Tel Aviv.

Haifa has also already experienced disappointment versus Maccabi in a title-deciding final, losing 76-68 at Nokia Arena in the State Cup final in February, capitulating once more in the closing stages of the fourth quarter.

”Someone told me that it is difficult to lose to the same team six times in one season and I hope that will prove to be the case,” said Haifa coach Brad Greenberg. “When you meet a team you have already lost to so many times previously you are clearly facing a very difficult mission.

“We played well against Maccabi in all five of the previous showdowns, but we didn’t do so throughout the game and that is the challenge we face on Thursday.”

Tel Aviv coach David Blatt is hoping that his team will benefit on Thursday from the experience of beating Haifa.

”We have beaten Haifa several times, but a one-game final is very different to a series,” Blatt said. “Therefore, I’m not sure that gives us a psychological advantage.

However, we may benefit from knowing what we did to win in the previous games.”

Tel Aviv and Haifa both recorded sweeps over Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, respectively, to reach the playoff semifinals, but the Greens only booked their place in the final on Sunday, almost a week after the yellow-and-blue.

While Tel Aviv beat Hapoel Jerusalem 3- 0, taking Blatt’s record in the playoffs to 28-0, Haifa toiled against Hapoel Eilat.

Greenberg’s team avoided becoming just the second team in Israeli basketball history to squander a 2-0 lead in a best-of-five series by eking out a 71-68 win in Romema on Sunday to clinch its berth in the final.

Haifa’s chances of success against Maccabi are almost completely dependent on four players. Donta Smith (20.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.1 APG in the playoffs), Pat Calathes (16.9 PPG, 9.6 RPG), Paul Stoll (14.6 PPG) and Gal Mekel (12.1 PPG. 6.8 APG) are all averaging over 33 minutes per game in the playoffs and Haifa will likely need all four to be in top form to get the better of Tel Aviv.

After a relatively quiet regular season, Ricky Hickman and Lior Eliyahu have stepped up their play for Tel Aviv in the post-season. The American guard leads the team in scoring with 17.7 points per game, almost eight more than he averaged in the regular season, while the Israeli forward has played more than any other player on the roster in the playoffs and has improved his averages to 13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in the post-season.

“Haifa has proven throughout the season that it deserves to reach the final,” said Eliyahu. “We are always under pressure in these types of games, but we have gotten accustomed to it and we need to complete the job.”

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