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(photo credit: Courtesy)
During the regular season, Bnei Hasharon's play against the Maccabi Haifa Heat resembled a professional shooting clinic.
The team from Ra'anana averaged 51 percent shooting from three-point range in both league games against the Heat. Although three-point shooting generally isn't considered to be one of Hasharon's strengths, it has been a key asset to coach Ariel Beit Halachmi's hopes in toppling Haifa in their first round playoff meeting.
Which is why after Game 1 of his team's series against Haifa (14-8), Halachmi realized Hasharon's shooting would have to get better in Game 2 if it wanted to beat the Heat a second time.
Hasharon (13-9) finished 7-for-26 (27%) from beyond the arc in a 69-66 victory over Haifa on April 26. It was the team's most three-point attempts, and its fewest made, against Maccabi this season.
On Sunday night, the long-range marksmanship was even worse for Hasharon, as it lost at home to the Heat, 75-71. The hosts started the game 0-for-6 from three-point range, and finished a dismal 3-16.
"With a team like Haifa and the way that both teams are playing defense, it's hard to get an open shot," Halachmi said following the Game 2 loss.
The last two minutes of the game were most indicative of the shooting struggles the team exhibited throughout the contest. Down just two points with a minute and 22 seconds remaining, point guard Meir Tapiro missed a shot from outside that would've given his team the lead.
Just a two possessions later, guards Erez Katz and Cookie Belcher missed back-to-back threes but were saved momentarily by two free-throws from center Shawn James.
The starters finished a combined 1-for-10 from beyond the arc. The only successful attempt came from big man James off a Haifa turnover to tie the game with just over four minutes to play.
After the game, Katz said he didn't see any tangible reasons as to why his team lost other than getting out-hustled at the end.
"Stat sheets are always good for the end of the game," Katz said referring to the victory in Game 1 despite having 21 missed free-throws.
"It's all about heart and execution."
Although poor free-throw form certainly did not do anything to lift the shooting problems in Game 1, it helped that Hasharon still finished with twice as many attempts at the foul line as Maccabi.
Haifa coach Avi Ashkenazi not only saw his team commit fewer fouls in Game 2, but the outside shooting improved from the opening loss as well. The Heat received a lot of help from guard Malik Dixon's newly-found touch and finished 6-for-17 from the perimeter.
During the first game of the best-of-five series, Maccabi finished 7-for-26, just like its opponents.
"Last game, we were the ones taking the bad shots and Sunday it was them, so this is the difference," Haifa forward Gur Porat said of Hasharon's shooting struggles.
The white-and-blue has a chance to redeem itself on Thursday when it travels up north to Haifa. A win would give it a 2-1 advantage and a chance to advance on its home court with another victory on Sunday.