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(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Hapoel Jerusalem in the State Cup final for the ninth time in the last 13 years on Thursday, after both teams survived tight semifinal encounters on Monday night at the Nokia Arena.
Maccabi outlasted Hapoel Afula/Gilboa 92-83 in the first game of the evening and cup-holder Jerusalem edged Hapoel Holon 102-100 in the second semifinal, to set-up a classic showdown in Thursday's final.
Tel Aviv, which had won nine straight cups until its semifinal loss to Bnei Hasharon last season, is still perfect in all competitions under coach Tzvika Sherf and will be confident of wrestling the title away from Jerusalem when the sides renew their rivalry.
Jerusalem, for its part, will be looking to defeat Maccabi in a cup final for the first time since 1997 and will be feeling good about its chances after the return to form of the fit-again Jamie Arnold on Monday.
Arnold scored 16 points and grabbed four rebounds in his first game since a lengthy injury lay-off.
Ramel Curry led Jerusalem with 21 points, with Dror Hajaj adding 19 points and nine assists. P.J Tucker scored 28 points for Holon and took 12 rebounds.
A Chester Simmons three-pointer opened an early five-point lead for Holon, but Jerusalem would score the next seven points of the encounter to take its first lead of the night.
Eight straight points by Moran Rot gave Holon the first substantial margin of the game (25-17) and the team led 31-25 after 10 minutes.
A Hajaj basket at the start of the second period brought the State Cup holder within two points (31-29), but Holon would soon surge ahead and its 12-3 run gave it an 11-point cushion (43-32).
Jerusalem forward Sharon Sasson (16 points) began to find his range midway through the second quarter and his three cut his side's deficit to three points (43-40). Another Sasson triple with 30 seconds to play in the first half brought his team to within one point at the break (53-52) and shifted the momentum Jerusalem's way.
Four straight points for Curry midway through the third quarter gave Jerusalem its first lead in 20 minutes (62-61) and another basket by the American shooter opened a five-point margin (69-64).
The gap continued to mushroom as the period drew to a close and baskets by Arnold and Hajaj gave the team a massive 76-64 advantage.
Jerusalem, which led 76-66 with 10 minutes to play, moved even further ahead in the fourth period, with a Curry basket giving the team an 80-66 lead.
Holon, however, ate away at the margin as the quarter progressed and Simmons' free throws cut his team's deficit to just four points (82-78). Holon got closer and closer as the game drew to a close, but came up just short and Jerusalem progressed to yet another cup final.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 92,
Hapoel Afula/Gilboa 83
Despite a close game, Maccabi Tel Aviv had no problems defeating Hapoel Afula/Gilboa 92-83 in the first semifinal of the evening.
Maccabi's Yotam Halperin led the winners with 22 points, with Afula/Gilboa's Lamont Jones scoring an identical amount.
The teams traded baskets for most of the first quarter, with the score tied at 22-22 at the end of the period. This continued throughout the first half, although Tel Aviv opened a slender four-point margin (45-41) at the half.
The second half saw more of the same. Tel Aviv pulled ahead but at the end of the third quarter it was still only ahead by three points (65-62) after Hapoel's Shir Lavi scored from beyond the arc.
A Jones three-pointer at the start of the final period tied the score at 65-65, but Halperin hit back with a triple of his own and Maccabi took the lead once again.
Esteban Batista dunked to make it 72-68 and from then on Maccabi cruised to the win.
"I'm glad we advanced to the final, but this was one of our worst games of the season," Tel Aviv coach Tzvika Sherf said.
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