Hapoel Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv look to book their first showdown in the BSL final in nine years on Monday.
Jerusalem faces Hapoel Eilat at the Jerusalem Arena after Tel Aviv plays Maccabi Rishon Lezion in the first semifinal of the evening.
Maccabi beat Jerusalem in consecutive finals in 2006 and 2007, but the two powerhouses of Israeli basketball have surprisingly not clashed for the league title since.
Hapoel went seven years without reaching the final until finally claiming a historic championship last season. It beat Eilat in the final after the southerners stunned Maccabi in the semifinal playoffs, coming back from a 0-2 deficit in the best-of-five series.
After three seasons, the BSL decided to bring back the Final Four format to determine the champion for the 2015/16 campaign.
Monday’s semis and the final on Thursday will all be held at the Jerusalem Arena, an advantage afforded to Hapoel after it finished the regular season in first place.
Jerusalem has won 12 straight home games in BSL action, a streak stretching back more than four months. It has lost at home in league play just once in 20 games all season, with Maccabi Haifa the last and only team to win at the Jerusalem Arena, claiming an 82-72 victory on January 24.
The yellow-and-blue hasn’t gone two straight years without winning the championship since 1966, which was also the last time a team not named Maccabi Tel Aviv won consecutive league titles (Hapoel Tel Aviv).
Jerusalem easily secured the No. 1 seed in the regular season, but only overcame No. 8 Hapoel Tel Aviv in the quarterfinals by the skin of its teeth. An 86-84 win at the Jerusalem Arena in Game 5 last Wednesday gave Hapoel a 3-2 series win after it trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half.
“We expected a tough series, but didn’t expect it to be so tough,” said Jerusalem captain Yotam Halperin. “I think this will help prepare us for the Final Four.”
Eilat, which ended the regular season in fifth place, will be playing following an 11-day break after sweeping Ironi Nahariya 3-0 in the quarterfinals.
Maccabi Tel Aviv will also be well rested, perhaps even a little rusty, after it claimed a 3-0 win over Bnei Herzliya in the quarters.
Its opponent, Rishon Lezion, needed five games to overcome Maccabi Haifa on its way to the Final Four.
“The entire season comes down to two games,” said Tel Aviv captain Guy Pnini. “The more relaxed team will win the game.”
Tapiro hanging up sneakers Meanwhile, 41-yearold guard Meir Tapiro will announce his retirement on Tuesday, 21 years after making his top flight debut for Hapoel Tel Aviv in the 1994/95 season.
He set an appearance record for a player in the top flight last season and is regarded as one of the greatest guards in Israeli basketball history.
Tapiro played for 10 different Israeli clubs during his career, the last of which was Maccabi Kiryat Gat, but won just one local title, claiming the State Cup with Hapoel Jerusalem in 2007.