Maccabi Rishon Lezion center Jackie Carmichael.
(photo credit: ODELIA MATARI/MACCABI RISHON LEZION)
Israeli basketball has a first-time champion for a second straight season after Maccabi Rishon Lezion stunned Hapoel Jerusalem 83-77 in the Final Four final at the Jerusalem Arena on Thursday night.
Rishon entered the game as a firm underdog against the defending champion and No. 1 seed, and Jerusalem looked to be cruising to a second-straight league title when it led by as many as 13 points in the first half.
However, a barrage of three-pointers by Shawn Dawson in the third quarter moved Rishon in front, and Darryl Monroe ensured Arik Shivek’s men were the ones celebrating at the finish in front of Jerusalem’s dumbfounded crowd.
Monroe ended the night with 29 points, hitting 14-of-17 two-point shots, while Dawson had 21 points, including five triples.
Tony Gaffney led a disappointed Jerusalem squad with 20 points.
Rishon only entered the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, but it edged Maccabi Haifa 3-2 in the best-of-five quarterfinal playoffs and overcame Maccabi Tel Aviv with a tight win in the semis.
Shivek joined Rishon less than two months ago, replacing Sharon Drucker, who fell out with the team’s ownership.
Despite leading Rishon to the quarterfinals of the FIBA Europe Cup following an impressive continental campaign and only missing out on a place in the State Cup final after a double-overtime defeat, Drucker was sent packing, ultimately paying the price for his rocky relationship with chairman Itzhak Perry and the club’s management.
Some of Rishon’s players weren’t even born when the team last played in the BSL final, but that didn’t seem to affect them one bit on Thursday. In fact, Rishon got off to the better start, scoring seven of the first nine points. However, its early lead became history within a minute, with Jerusalem scoring quick seven unanswered points.
Gaffney’s three-pointer capped a 10-0 run to open an eight-point advantage (15-7) and it wouldn’t be long before the gap reached double-digits. Hapoel took an 11-point cushion (28-17) into the second quarter after scoring 11-of-12 field-goal attempts in the first frame, a combination of clinical shooting and poor defending on Rishon’s part.
The margin reached 13 points after Eli Holman scored the first two points on the second frame, but Rishon would respond.
After overcoming so much adversity throughout the season, there was no way Rishon would fold in the final without a fight and it slowly, but surely ate away at the deficit in the second period. Seven points in a row brought Rishon within one possession (39-36), and Jerusalem was ahead by a mere five points (43-38) entering the break.
After hitting only 2-of-12 three-point attempts to start the game, Rishon caught fire from beyond the arc in the third quarter, silencing the stunned Jerusalem supporters. Dawson connected on three straight shots from beyond the arc within 90 seconds, giving Rishon a four-point lead (51-47). Rishon remained ahead until the end of the frame, but it was anyone’s game entering the final 10 minutes, with Rishon in front by three points (64-61).
Jerusalem scored the first four points in the final period to reclaim the lead, but Rishon was never too far behind, with another Dawson triple moving Shivek’s men back ahead (69-68).
The tension began to take its toll on both teams as the finish line drew to a close, with Jerusalem going more than four minutes without a field goal at one stage.
A stunning Dawson dunk took Rishon’s lead to five points (75-70) with 3:37 minutes remaining and an unstoppable turnaround jumper by Monroe extended the gap to six points (79-73) with 1:22 to play and there was no way back for Jerusalem.