Maccabi Haifa’s Pat Calathes 370.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It was just last Sunday that Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Haifa in BSL action
at Nokia Arena for its 12th straight league win.
The teams will meet at
Nokia once again on Thursday night, but this time there will be far more on the
line, with the yellow-and- blue vying for its fourth consecutive State Cup
triumph and Haifa hoping to lift an historic title.
Tel Aviv and Haifa
have already met twice this season in BSL action, with the former eventually
winning both encounters quite comfortably, 87-67 in Romema in November and 76-64
However, on both occasions, Haifa remained within striking
distance of Tel Aviv for the first three periods before capitulating in the
Tel Aviv outscored the Greens by double-digits in the fourth
quarters of each encounter, but Haifa guard Gal Mekel, who played for the
yellow-and-blue in the 2008/09 season, is brimming with confidence ahead of
“We enter every game with the aim of winning it,”
Mekel said. “Maccabi is very experienced in these situations, but we don’t care
about that. We have a very talented team and we can beat them on a given day. We
played terribly against Maccabi last week, but the game was still tied with
eight minutes remaining. We can do this.”
Veteran Haifa center Ido
Kozikaro, who has experienced a fair share of disappointments against Tel Aviv
down the years, was slightly more cautious than his young
“Maccabi will be ready to play like one of the best team’s in
Europe in the cup final,” said Kozikaro after Haifa’s 80-61 victory over Hapoel
Jerusalem in Tuesday’s semifinal.
“Despite the absence of the injured
Lior Eliyahu, Maccabi still has depth and a lot of talent. I believe we can win,
but we will be entering the game as an underdog. God willing, I will lift my
first title in Israel.”
Haifa was far from its best against Jerusalem,
committing 26 turnovers and hitting just 6-of-18 three-point
However, the Greens dominated Hapoel under the baskets, hitting
an amazing 83.8 percent of their two-point shots (26-of-31) and outrebounding
the Reds 32-22.
Haifa’s defeat to Maccabi last week was its third in the
past four BSL games, but coach Brad Greenberg is confident his team can display
its best basketball when it matters most on Thursday night.
“We will give
our best against Maccabi,” said Greenberg, who guided Haifa to its fourth ever
cup final, with the Greens losing to Hapoel Holon at the buzzer when they last
made it this far in 2009.
“David Blatt is one of the best coaches in the
world. It’s unfortunate for them that Eliyahu is injured, but they have plenty
of fire-power on their roster. Our guys played well and are working hard and as
a coach you can’t ask for more than that.”
Eliyahu’s absence with a
left-knee strain didn’t seem to affect Tel Aviv for the first half of Tuesday’s
semi against Maccabi Ashdod, with the yellow-and-blue leading by as many as 19
points in the second quarter.
However, Blatt could have sure used Eliyahu
when Ashdod closed to within two points in the third and fourth quarters, with
Tel Aviv eventually surviving by the skin of its teeth, claiming an 85-80
“We were playing without our best Israeli player and it was a
good job Sylven Landesberg stepped up,” said Blatt. “Haifa beat two excellent
teams in Bnei Herzliya and Hapoel Jerusalem to reach the final. Many people
thought Haifa wouldn’t overcome Jerusalem, but they played very well and we face
a tough encounter on Thursday.”
Landesberg had 15 points for Maccabi, but
it was Yogev Ohayon who led the team to the win from the backcourt with 18
points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
Ohayon faces Israel teammate
Mekel in one of Thursday’s more intriguing matchups, but the game will likely be
decided in the paint.
Haifa proved against Jerusalem what a force it can
be when its big-men are in top form and it faces a Tel Aviv team with a depleted
front court following Eliyahu’s injury and the release of Malcolm
Haifa’s leading scorer Donta Smith (16.8 PPG) promised his team
is not content with just reaching the final.
“We recorded a big win
against Jerusalem, but we still have one more game before we lift the cup, so
we’ve got nothing to celebrate just yet,” he said. “We have a great match-up
against most of the teams in the league. We are the tallest team in the BSL and
that is our biggest advantage.
“We made the most of it in the semis and
now we will have to do the same in the final.”