Hapoel Jerusalem guard Yotam Halperin.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem looks to claim its second straight BSL championship when it faces Maccabi Rishon Lezion in the Final Four final on Thursday night, with Maccabi Tel Aviv’s season once more ending in disappointment.
Jerusalem defeated Hapoel Eilat 82-78 in the second Final Four semifinal at the Jerusalem Arena on Monday night after Rishon shocked Tel Aviv 71-69, with the yellow-and-blue being knocked out in the semifinals for a second straight year.
The final will also be held in Jerusalem, an advantage afforded to Hapoel after it finished the regular season in first place.
For the first time in 50 years, Maccabi Tel Aviv will go two consecutive seasons without winning the Israeli championship, capping one of its worst-ever campaigns after also being sent packing in the Euroleague regular season.
A Darryl Monroe basket with 15.6 seconds to play gave Rishon the decisive lead, with Taylor Rochestie and Guy Pnini missing at the other end to bring Tel Aviv’s dismal season to a close.
Last season, Maccabi became just the second team to squander a 2-0 lead in the playoffs, being upset in a best-of-five semifinal series against Eilat, which was guided by current Rishon coach Arik Shivek.
“I feel empty,” said Tel Aviv coach Zan Tabak, who was signed last November to replace Guy Goodes and will not continue for another season. “When you put all your energy and all your focus into one game and you lose like this you feel empty.”
Monroe led Rishon with 20 points and eight rebounds, with Mark Lyons scoring 19 points and Chris Wright adding 15 points.
“I felt a bit of a déjà vu,” said Shivek after Rishon reached its second final in club history, a first since the 1990/91 campaign.
“This is one of the greatest wins of my career. The players are having a heroic postseason.”
Rochestie had 20 points for Maccabi, with Yogev Ohayon scoring 15 for the yellow- and-blue, which shot just 35 percent (14-of-40) from two-point range compared to Rishon’s 57 percent (25-of-44).
Eilat got the second semi off to the better start, but a 12-2 Jerusalem run gave it the lead (17-15). Hapoel’s gap reached nine points (36-27) midway through the second frame, but Eilat trimmed the margin to four points (45-41) by the break.
Jerusalem’s advantage was reduced to a single point (63-62) ahead of the final quarter and Eilat surged to a fourpoint (76-72) lead with just under five minutes to play. However, Hapoel would respond with a game-winning 9-0 run over the next four minutes to keep Jerusalem’s dream of defending the league title alive.
Lior Eliyahu had 16 points and 12 rebound for Jerusalem, with E.J. Rowland adding 15 points. DeAndre Kane finished with 22 points and 13 boards for Eilat, with Alade Aminu contributing 20 points and 16 rebounds.
There was little to separate Tel Aviv and Rishon in the first half, with the former holding a two-point lead (36-34).
After admitting ahead of the game that he was upset at being left out of both the first and second All-BSL teams, Mark Lyons scored half of Rishon’s point in the first two periods. He only netted two more until the end of the game, but Rishon still found a way to win.
Tel Aviv still held a two-point edge (57-55) entering the final 10 minutes and was well placed after Gal Mekel’s three-pointer opened a 69-65 advantage with 1:45 minutes remaining.
Those would prove to be Maccabi’s final points of the night though, with Monroe scoring the go-ahead basket and the yellow-and-blue squandering two chances to win at the buzzer.
“We didn’t want to end the season like this,” said Mekel. “This is a very big disappointment. We believed we could win the championship but this is part of our lives as basketball players. This is an unacceptable way to finish the season at Maccabi and we will have to deal with this.”