Hapoel Eilat celebrating.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
For the first time since 1993, Maccabi Tel Aviv has failed to reach the BSL final.
Hapoel Eilat recorded one of the biggest upsets in Israeli basketball history on Wednesday night, claiming a 79-76 win at Nokia Arena in the decisive Game 5 of the semifinal series to complete a comeback from 0-2.
Maccabi seemed to be cruising to its 21st straight final when it held a 2-0 lead in the series and was ahead by double-digits in Game 3 at home. However, Eilat stayed alive with a win in overtime, and after tying the series at home earlier this week, capped a remarkable week by beating the yellow-and-blue on the road for a second straight time to advance to the final where it will face Hapoel Jerusalem.
Eilat will host Game 1 of the two-game aggregate final next Monday, with the second encounter to take place three days later in Jerusalem.
Maccabi’s only previous defeat in a playoff series since the format was introduced to Israeli basketball in 1983 was to Hapoel Galil Elyon in the semifinals of the 1992/93 season, ending a run of 23 consecutive championships.
Afik Nissim led Eilat with 21 points, with Adrian Uter adding 15 points and 12 rebounds. Yogev Ohayon had 19 points for Maccabi, which couldn’t overcome the injuries to Devin Smith and Sylven Landesberg.
“This hurts,” said Maccabi coach Guy Goodes. “We were missing some players and Eilat deserves credit.
We probably should have won Game 3 here and once we failed to do that, we were in trouble.”
A Jeremy Pargo triple followed by a Ohayon trey gave Maccabi a double-digit gap (32-22) with four minutes left in the first half, but Eilat would respond with a 10-0 run.
Ohayon capped his superb first half with two more points to take his tally in the opening 20 minutes to 16 points, but Maccabi was ahead by just three points (36-33) at the break.
Ohayon and Pargo combined for 30 of Maccabi’s 36 points in the first half, but they failed to add to their tally in the third quarter and the hosts were in big trouble.
Fortunately for Maccabi, Marquez Haynes scored 10 points in the period after netting a combined nine points in the entire post-season until that stage, but Nissim also caught fire and his three gave Eilat its first lead of the night (47-46) midway through the third frame.
Eilat took a three-point advantage (58-55) into the fourth quarter and Maccabi looked to be dead and buried when Kahlif Wyatt’s triple opened a record 11-point gap (72-61) with fourand- a-half minutes remaining.
However, Tel Aviv dug deep and Brian Randle’s basket tied the score with 1:25 to play (74- 74). Ohayon had a chance to move Maccabi back in front, but he couldn’t convert and Eilat kept its cool from the free-throw line to cap the greatest night in club history.