maccabi tel aviv 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After only barely surviving a five-game series against Bnei Hasharon, Maccabi Tel Aviv enters Tuesday’s Final Four semifinal against Barak Netanya with plenty to prove.
Maccabi strolled through the BSL regular season, winning 21 of 22 games, while leading the league in points (94.3 ppg), assists (22.8 apg), two-point (58.7%) and three-point (43.1%) shooting.
However, Tel Aviv unexpectedly encountered massive problems in the quarterfinal playoffs against Bnei Hasharon and was quite fortunate to avoid a stunning early exit.
Maccabi thrashed Bnei Hasharon in Games 2 and 3 after suffering a surprise defeat in Game 1, but the series had to be decided in a decisive fifth game following the yellow-and-blue’s Game 4 loss in Herzliya.
The fate of Tel Aviv’s season ended up coming down to the final minute of the series when Pini Gershon’s men held their nerve a little better than their opponents to eke out a victory and clinch a Final Four berth.
Many of Maccabi’s vulnerabilities were exposed by Bnei Hasharon, with Tel Aviv only barely stumbling over the finishing line in very unconvincing fashion.
However, Gershon remains very confident of his team’s superiority over the rest of the league ahead of the Final Four, which he believes was created to hurt Maccabi.
“The games depend on us, but on a given day we can be surprised and we will have to be on our toes,” Gershon said. “Everyone criticizes Maccabi, but where would Israeli basketball be without us. The Final Four was established so we would fall, but without us BSL chairman Avner Kopel would have to sell the TV rights for NIS 500,000 instead of six million.”
Netanya handed Maccabi its only defeat of the regular season, winning 114-103 after overtime on January 24. However, Arik Alfasi’s team was completely outplayed in both its games against Tel Aviv at the Nokia Arena this season and the coach has no illusions of the mammoth task his side faces on Tuesday night.
“Maccabi is a clear favorite at the Nokia Arena, but we are not afraid,” he said. “We didn’t look good against Maccabi when we played them at Nokia in the league and in the State Cup, but that was because we didn’t play smart enough. I believe that if we play to our advantages and avoid playing wild basketball we can record an upset. Maccabi is vulnerable and we will try and play to its weaknesses.”
Tel Aviv has a far simpler game plan for Tuesday. Danilo Pinnock (19 ppg), Marco Killingsworth (18.4 ppg) and Tony Washam (17.7 ppg) score more than 67% of their team’s points, with no other player averaging more than six points per game.
However, as well as slowing down Netanya’s big three, Maccabi will also be focusing on playmaker Shmulik Brenner (5.2 ppg, 5.5 apg), who is the barometer of his side despite his modest numbers.
“We need to maintain our focus for 40 minutes and I hope that with the help of the fans we will claim the win,” Brenner said.
In the first semifinal of the night, Hapoel Jerusalem faces Hapoel Gilboa/Galil. Jerusalem and Gilboa split their two meetings in the regular season, with each team winning on the road.
Both sides have come through erratic campaigns, but seem to be hitting form at the ideal moment. Gilboa was the only team to sweep its quarterfinal series, beating Ironi Ashkelon 3-0.
Jerusalem lost one game in its series against Maccabi Rishon Lezion, but
found a way to win in Game 4 and will be in a confident mood on
Tuesday, especially with its road record this season at 10-3.
“I don’t know if we are in top form, but we are currently in the
ascendency in a season of many ups and downs,” Jerusalem coach Guy
Oded Katash will be guiding Gilboa in the Final Four for the third time
in his career and believes his team is finally capable of reaching its
“I hope we take that extra step,” he said. “We feel the game is wide
open. There is no clear favorite. I’m expecting a very interesting
encounter to develop.”