Even in its worst nightmares Maccabi Tel Aviv never imagined that it would face a Game 5 against Bnei Hasharon for a place in the BSL Final Four.
However, Maccabi suffered a 91-81 defeat in Herzliya on Thursday night and will have to defeat Bnei Hasharon in the decisive game of its quarterfinal playoff series on Monday to avoid arguably the biggest upset in Israeli basketball history.
After a stunning home defeat in the series opener, Tel Aviv won the next two games by an average of 27.5 points and was a firm favorite to book its place in the Final Four with another easy win on Thursday.
However, Maccabi’s complacency, combined with Bnei Hasharon’s determination, resulted in another victory for Dan Shamir’s team, which only just made the playoffs and has already well exceeded all expectations.
“We were very down entering the game and I’m very proud of my team,” Shamir said. “I hope we can play like this in Game 5 and make it an interesting encounter.”
Maccabi coach Pini Gershon remained optimistic of his side’s chances on Monday.
“We are the better team and we are playing at home so the game depends on us,” Gershon said.
Hapoel Jerusalem became the second team to advance to the Final Four on Thursday, booking a semifinal meeting against Hapoel Gilboa/Galil after beating Maccabi Rishon Lezion 62-56 to complete a 3-1 series win.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil clinched a 3-0 sweep over Ironi Ashkelon earlier this week.
“This season has been a rollercoaster, but we are entering the final stretch focused,” Hapoel coach Guy Goodes said.
Barak Netanya will also be in the Final Four in a week-and-a-half after beating Maccabi Haifa 75-71 on Thursday for a 3-1 win. Tony Washam had 27 points and nine rebounds for Netanya, which is waiting for the winner of the series between Maccabi and Bnei Hasharon.
Jason Rich had 20 points for Haifa, which will be bitterly disappointed with the way its campaign has ended after finishing last season in the runners-up position.
Also Thursday, Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Afula won with their backs against the wall to send both relegation playoff series to a decisive Game 5. Holon beat Ironi Nahariya 71-55 at home behind Antonio Graves’s 17 points. Steven Smith had 14 points and 15 rebounds for Nahariya, which has beaten Holon at home three times this season and will be confident of doing so once more next week.
Afula beat Ironi Ramat Gan 79-71, tying the series at 2-2 after losing the first two games. Dionte Christmas had 20 points and seven rebounds, with Justin Dentmon contributing 17 points for Afula, which will be confident of completing a remarkable comeback in front of its fans.Bnei Hasharon 91, Maccabi Tel Aviv 81
After suffering two straight thrashings at the hands of Tel Aviv, Bnei Hasharon was determined to show its true worth on Thursday night. The hosts trailed by one point (21-20) after a very tight first period, but took a six-point lead into the break (46-40) following Ron Steele’s buzzer-beating three-pointer.
Bnei Hasharon took a 63-60 margin into the last 10 minutes and got the fourth frame off to the better start, with another Steele triple opening a double-digit gap (75-65).
An Ori Itzhaki three with four minutes to play extended the lead to 12 points (79-67) and Bnei Hasharon held on with surprising ease to send the series back to the Nokia Arena for one more game.
Shawn James led the winners with 20 points and eight rebounds, with P.J. Tucker adding 18 points. Steele and Itzhaki added 14 points each, while Andrew Wisniewski and Chuck Eidson scored 17 points each for Maccabi, which hasn’t played a game 5 since 1993, when it lost in the semifinal playoffs to Hapoel Galil Elyon.Maccabi Rishon Lezion 56, Hapoel Jerusalem 62
The visitors led by a single point after 10 minutes (16-15), but Rishon seized control in the second period and took a 39-30 advantage into the break.
Hapoel ate away at the gap as the third period progressed, only for
Rishon to score the final six points of the quarter to take a 50-45
margin into the final 10 minutes.
The game would come down to the
final minute when two great plays by Dijon Thompson decided the winner.
The American forward scored a three with 35 seconds remaining to give
his team a 60-56 lead before stealing the ball at the other end and
clinching the victory from the free-throw line.
Thompson had 16
points and eight rebounds for Hapoel, with Aaron McGhee contributing 15
points and 10 rebounds for Rishon, which can have no complaints after
losing both its home games of the series.