Hapoel Jerusalem’s Jerome Dyson.
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Hapoel Jerusalem looks to end a turbulent campaign on a high, while Maccabi Haifa aims to complete an unlikely dream run when the BSL season comes to a close on Thursday night with the Final Four title game at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem is playing in its third straight final, having won an historic championship two years ago before suffering a surprise defeat to Maccabi Rishon Lezion last season.
Despite reaching the Eurocup semifinals, Hapoel struggled for consistency in local action this year, registering a 19-14 record in the regular season to enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed.
Jerusalem then dug itself a 0-2 hole against Ironi Nahariya, but rebounded to become just the third team to come back from a two-game deficit in a best-of-five series to qualify for the Final Four.
Hapoel registered its most impressive win in months by overcoming Maccabi Rishon Lezion 93-76 in the semis, but faces a team riding a remarkable wave of momentum in the final.
“If we win the championship we will remember this season as a great success,” said Jerusalem forward Lior Eliyahu. “Haifa is the toughest team in the league. The pressure in the final is different from any other game and the contest is wide open.”
It was exactly a month ago that Haifa entered the final day of the regular season needing a win to book its place in the playoffs. The Greens thrashed Hapoel Tel Aviv to clinch the eighth and final ticket to the playoffs before becoming the first No. 8 seed to knock out a top seed, beating Hapoel Holon 3-1 in the quarters.
Haifa was still the underdog against a resurgent Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semis on Monday, but it led from start to finish to secure its return to the final for the first time since 2014.
Like Jerusalem, Haifa is also targeting a second championship in club history, winning its first league title four years ago.
Ofer Rahimi has experienced a rocky first season as a head coach after serving as Rami Hadar’s assistant in previous campaigns. He was close to losing his job earlier in the year and he had to reorganize the side after American forward Will Graves was ruled out for the season at the end of April with a fractured wrist.
The Greens lost their next four games before beating Hapoel to advance to the post-season and have been almost unstoppable since. Among those who have stepped up are nationalized American guard John DiBartolomeo, who doubled his regular season average by registering 22.5 points per game in the quarterfinals.
DiBartolomeo, who is garnering interest from Maccabi Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was held scoreless in the first half of the semifinal, but netted 19 points after the break to secure Haifa’s 85-74 victory over the yellow-and-blue.
Veteran center Kevinn Pinkney led Haifa with 20 points and nine rebounds, building on an impressive series against Holon.
Pinkney admitted that Thursday’s final has a special significance to him after being cut by Jerusalem during the 2009/10 campaign.
“This is an opportunity for me,” said Pinkney. “It’s funny how basketball works. A team cuts you right before the playoffs and years later you go up against it in the final. I would have had massive motivation regardless, but this certainly adds to it.”
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