Hapoel Eilat’s Elishay Kadir and Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Yogev Ohayon .
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will have to wait at least until Sunday night to secure its progress to the BSL final after suffering a surprise 104-98 overtime defeat to Hapoel Eilat at Yad Eliyahu Arena on Wednesday night, cutting the yellowand- blue’s lead in the best-of-five series to 2-1.
After dominating Game 2 in Eilat, Maccabi seemed to be cruising to its 21st straight league final when it led by double digits in the third quarter. However, Eilat erased the entire deficit at the start of the fourth frame and was the more composed team in the extra period.
Eilat hosts Game 4 on Sunday, with a decisive Game 5 to take place at Yad Eliyahu next Wednesday, if necessary.
Hapoel Jerusalem can become the first team to book its place in the final with a home victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Thursday night. Jerusalem leads the series 2-0.
Adrian Uter led five Eilat players in double figures with 26 points and 11 rebounds, while Nate Linhart had 22 points and 11 boards for Tel Aviv.
Maccabi will at least console itself in the knowledge that Wednesday’s defeat means the home-and-away final will not be brought forward.
The BSL announced last week that should both Maccabi and Jerusalem complete sweeps this week, the first leg of the final will take place next Wednesday, June 17.
However, following Eilat’s win, the first leg of the final will be played on June 22 as originally scheduled, with the second encounter to be contested three days later.
After initially not speaking out against the decision, Maccabi approached the BSL on Tuesday requesting that the final not be moved forward.
The five-day postponement is expected to work in Maccabi’s favor, with the yellow-and-blue sweating over the fitness of star forward Devin Smith, who was ruled out for at least 10 days last Thursday with a thigh injury.
Smith watched from the stands on Wednesday, but Maccabi had little trouble managing without him for the first three periods.
The hosts held a slender threepoint lead (27-24) after a tight first quarter before pulling ahead in the second period with an 8-0 run (43-32), capped by a Linhart three-pointer midway through the frame.
Eilat closed back within four points (49-45) by the interval and Uter’s three-point play cut the deficit to just a single point (51-50). However, Maccabi scored 15 of the next 19 points to reestablish a double-digit cushion (66-54).
Tel Aviv failed to put the game away though, with Kevin Palmer’s triple capping a 16-4 surge which brought Eilat back within one point (73-72).
Uter leveled the score (79-79) with 3:30 minutes remaining and Palmer’s free throws gave Eilat its first lead since the first period.
The lead would continue to exchange hands until the final buzzer, but neither team could score in their final possessions, with the contest going to overtime after Eilat’s Amit Simhon missed an open three at the buzzer.
Simhon scored five straight in the extra period to give Eilat a 92-89 advantage and a Khalif Wyatt lay-up followed by a three-pointer opened a seven- point margin (100-93) which Maccabi was never going to erase in the final minute.