Hapoel Eilat ODED KATASH 370.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Haifa hosts Hapoel Eilat in the decisive Game 5 of their BSL semifinal series on Sunday night, with the winner to book a return visit to Romema Arena for Thursday’s championship game.
Eilat can become just the second team in Israeli basketball history to come back from 0-2 down in a best-offive playoff series after drawing level with Haifa with an 82-72 victory in Game 4.
Maccabi Tel Aviv awaits Sunday’s winner in Thursday’s BSL final after completing a 3-0 sweep of Hapoel Jerusalem last week.
Eilat’s season seemed all but over after it lost Game 2 at home by 21 points, but the southerners eked out a 78-75 overtime-triumph on the road in Game 3 and will have a chance to complete the comeback on Sunday after toughing out yet another win in their final home game of the season last Wednesday.
Since the playoff format was introduced in the 1989/90 season, only last season’s Maccabi Rishon Lezion side has managed to recover from a two-game deficit, beating Ironi Ashkelon 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
A victory for Eilat on Sunday would be an especially gratifying triumph for coach Oded Katash. Besides the fact that it would see him claim his sixth series win in six coached during his career, it will also validate his decision to drop star Scotty Hopson for Game 2.
Hopson led Eilat in minutes (31.6) and points (18.6) in the regular season, but after scoring a season-high 34 points in Game 1 of the quarterfinal series versus Rishon Lezion, the 23-year-old forward slightly lost his way. He averaged just 11.3 points in the final four games of the quarters before scoring only 12 points in the series opener against Haifa.
That prompted Katash to cut him ahead of Game 2, a decision which earned the coach plenty of criticism, especially after his team slumped to a 105-84 defeat at home.
However, Hopson bounced back with 21 points in each of the next two games, while also significantly improving on his regular season stats by averaging 7.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists.
Haifa coach Brad Greenberg insisted that his team will be “fine” despite dropping a 2-0 lead and he is hoping homecourt advantage will make the difference on Sunday.
Only 13 of the 78 best-of-five series’ played over the past 23 years came down to a fifth game, with the home team winning in 10 of the 12 deciders, an encouraging stat for Haifa.
“We worked all year to finish the regular season in second place so we would have homecourt advantage in Game 5,” Greenberg said. “Now we get to play the most crucial game of the season at home.”