Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Maccabi Haifa in the BSL final for a second straight season after both teams completed 3-1 series wins in the playoff semifinals on Monday night.
Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Eilat 100-96 in overtime in Israel’s southernmost city, while Haifa crushed Hapoel Jerusalem 90-68 at home at Romema Arena.
Haifa defeated Maccabi in last season’s winner-takes-all final, but this year the title will be decided in a twolegged home-and-away format, with the aggregate score to determine the winner should each team triumph in one game.
As Haifa is the lower seed, it will host the yellow-and-blue at Romema in Game 1 on Sunday, with the return leg to be played in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
Tel Aviv hasn’t gone two consecutive seasons without winning the league title since 1966, but Haifa has hit form at the perfect time and believes it can register an upset once more.
“We have an opportunity,” said Haifa forward Brian Randle. “You can never predict what will happen. We are going to go there and play. It is hard not to be excited.”
There was little to separate the teams at the start of Game 4 in Haifa, with the hosts holding a four-point gap (18-14) after the first quarter. However, Haifa stormed out of the gates at the start of the second period, going on a 16-2 run (34-16) inspired by Adrian Henning, who scored 10 of the points.
The margin already reached 25 points by the break (50-25) after Haifa outscored Hapoel 32-11 in the quarter and the second half was no more than garbage time.
Henning led Haifa with 22 points, hitting 10-of-10 field-goal attempts, with Randle adding 17 points and nine rebounds.
Derwin Kitchen scored 16 points for Jerusalem.
In Eilat, the hosts seemed to be far more determined at the start of the night, opening an early lead which reached nine points (28-19) after Niv Berkowitz’s basket to finish the first period.
Christian Watford’s points took the gap to double figures (31-21), with the hosts leading by as many as 13 points (41-28) at one stage. However, Maccabi scored seven of the final nine points of the half to close within just six points (43-37) and David Blu’s three-pointer tied the score (58-58).
After his poor performance in the first three games of the series, Afik Nissim returned to life, scoring seven quick points to ensure Eilat had a six-point edge (68- 62) entering the final 10 minutes.
Eilat still held a five-point lead (80-75) following Watford’s basket with 2:25 minutes to play, but Maccabi proved its fighting qualities yet again, scoring the final five points of regulation to force overtime.
The game went back and forth in overtime, with Watford’s three-point play giving Eilat the advantage (91-89) with 1:40 to play. However, Maccabi would stifle Eilat’s offense in the remainder of the extra period and secured the win by hitting eight consecutive free throws. Yellow-and-blue coach David Blatt left the arena with 10 seconds remaining on the clock in order to catch his flight so that he would arrive in the US in time for the funeral of his father, who passed away earlier Monday.
Sofoklis Schortsanitis led Maccabi with 22 points in 17 minutes, while Ricky Hickman added 21 points, Tyrese Rice scored 16 and Devin Smith finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Watford led Eilat with 19 points.
“We knew we will have to bring our best game to get the win,” said Hickman.
“After what happened last season, we wouldn’t want to face any team but Haifa in the final.”