Rishon into Final Four with win in Eilat

Defending champs triumph in Game 5 to advance to semis; J’lem hosts Nahariya for remaining berth.

June 8, 2017 01:10
3 minute read.
Maccabi Rishon Lezion forward Elishay Kadir (left) celebrates with teammate J.J. Moore after last ni

Maccabi Rishon Lezion forward Elishay Kadir (left) celebrates with teammate J.J. Moore after last night’s 82-77 win at Hapoel Eilat in Game 5 of their quarterfinal series. (photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN /BSL)


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Maccabi Rishon Lezion’s BSL title defense is still alive after the reigning champion advanced to next week’s Final Four tournament with an 82-77 win at Hapoel Eilat in a decisive Game 5 on Wednesday.

After a rocky regular season during which coach Arik Shivek was fired, Rishon entered the playoffs as the No.

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7 seed. It never played like an underdog, winning twice in Israel’s southernmost city after Eilat had only lost once in its 12 previous home games in 2017.

Rishon was the No. 6 seed in last year’s triumphant campaign and will be brimming with confidence entering the Final Four at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv.

Rishon will face in the semifinals next Monday the winner of Thursday’s Game 5 in Jerusalem between Hapoel Jerusalem and Ironi Nahariya.

Regardless of its opponent in the semis, Rishon will be aiming to dictate the pace the way it did in Game 5 in Eilat. Rishon led by only three points (39-36) at the break, but never trailed in the second half. The game was wide open when Eilat closed to within four points (70-66) midway through the final quarter, but Rishon maintained its composure and secured the crucial victory.

Charles Thomas had 17 points in 14 minutes for Rishon before being ejected with just over four minutes to play in the third period following a scuffle with Reginald Buckner.

“We have been through such a tough season. You could write a book about our season,” said Rishon coach Shmulik Brenner, who was Shivek’s assistant before replacing him. “Two months ago our team was physically and mentally broken. I told the players that if they believe in each other we can achieve wonders.”

Buckner, who was also ejected, led Eilat together with Landon Milbourne, with each scoring 16 points.

“They targeted two of our players and dragged us to a certain style,” said Eilat’s frustrated coach Oded Katash, after the team failed to reach the semis for the first time after four years. “It is never pleasant to lose like this, but we are very proud of our season.”

Eilat’s defeat means that both the No.

1 and No. 2 seeds won’t be playing in the Final Four, with Hapoel Holon being sent packing by No. 8 Maccabi Haifa.

The final ticket to the Final Four will be handed out in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Hapoel Jerusalem is aiming to become just the third team in BSL playoff history to come back from a 0-2 hole. Eilat did so against Maccabi Tel Aviv two years ago after Rishon Lezion became the first versus Ironi Ashkelon in 2012.

Hapoel stayed alive with a home win in Game 3 before tying the series with a road triumph on Sunday, surviving a massive scare to claim a 74-72 victory.

Nahariya’s Derwin Kitchen missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have ended the series had it gone in, allowing Jerusalem to avoid a humbling exit before the Final Four for the first time since 2012, assuming it wins Game 5.

“We played with less emotion in Game 4. We played tough, but were in control,” said Jerusalem coach Simone Pianigiani. “Nothing is finished. Game 5 will be so difficult. If we aren’t focused mentally on our game-plan for 40 minutes it will be tough to win.”

Nahariya coach Eric Alfasi was furious with the officiating in Game 4, but believes his team can win in Jerusalem for the second time in the series to complete the upset and claim a playoff series for the first time since 2004.

“We need to lift our heads,” he said.

“We proved we can beat them in Jerusalem and we have proven throughout the series that we can compete with them.”

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