Hapoel Jerusalem coach Danny Franco.
(photo credit: ODED KARNI/BSL)
It wasn’t until the final seconds of the seven-month BSL regular season on Sunday that the match-ups in the quarterfinal playoffs were finally decided.
Apart from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem, who had already secured the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, the six other postseason bound sides entered the final day of action with plenty to play for.
Once the smoke cleared, it became apparent that there was only one big mover on Sunday, with Maccabi Rishon Lezion dropping all the way from third place to sixth, resulting in Hapoel Holon, Hapoel Eilat and Maccabi Haifa all moving up one place.
Rishon had its fate in its own hands, but suffered a surprising defeat at the already relegated Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and will have to face Holon without home-court advantage in the best-of-five last eight.
In what looks to be the tie of the round, Jerusalem will play Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv was undoubtedly one of the better teams in the league midway through the campaign, but it lost its way following the shock passing of team manager Uri Shelef at the age of 43.
Five defeats from six games saw Hapoel drop down the standings before it won its final two regular season contests to claim the No. 7 seed.
Jerusalem and Hapoel were evenly matched in their three regular season meetings. Jerusalem won two of three games, but its victories came by a combined five points.
“Of course Jerusalem, with its home-court advantage, is the favorite,” said Tel Aviv coach Oded Katash. “They have a deep rotation with plenty of ability.
But we have a week to prepare and have proven in the past that we can beat quality opponents.”
Jerusalem enters the playoffs on the back of 15 wins from its past 17 games and coach Danny Franco has been pleased with what he’s seen.
“The first chapter of the season has ended in success and we will spend the next week preparing for the second chapter,” said Franco following Sunday’s victory over Ironi Nahariya.
The only one-sided series on paper looks to be between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ironi Ness Ziona, with the battle between No. 4 seed Eilat and No. 5 Haifa also seeming like a tight affair.
“The regular season proved that teams like Hapoel Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion, Eilat, Haifa and Holon are pretty equal,” said Eilat coach Arik Shivek. “It didn’t really matter to us who we faced.”
The playoffs will begin on Saturday night with Game 1 of the series between Holon and Rishon. The quarters will run until June 1 if necessary, with the best-of-five semifinals to get underway on June 4.
The two-legged final will be played on June 22 and 25.