Maccabi Tel Aviv's Lior Eliyahu 311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Rishon Lezion advanced to the State Cup final for the first time in 20
years on Monday night, but it still has plenty of work remaining to claim a
first title in club history as it will come up against an in-form Maccabi Tel
Aviv at Nokia Arena on Thursday.
Effi Birenboim’s Rishon led by as many
as 18 points against BC Habika’a, but had to survive a late scare before coming
through to win 78-71.
Tel Aviv’s biggest fright of the night came late in
the first half when Sofoklis Schortsanitis hit the floor hard, clutching his
knee and screaming with pain.
However, after being helped off court and
going down to the dressing rooms, Sofo returned to the floor in the second half
and Maccabi easily secured its progress with a 91-70 win over Hapoel
Maccabi will be going for its third straight cup triumph and 45th
in club history, but Birenboim believes his team is ready for Tel Aviv after
being beaten by the yellow-and-blue by a single point when they met in BSL
action two months ago.
“We played very well tonight,” Birenboim said. “We
played like a team that is ready for a challenge. I’m very encouraged by what I
saw tonight. This is the reward for all our hard work.”
After a tight
first period, Rishon built a double-digit lead over BC Habika’a by the break
(40-30) and seemed to be cruising after taking a 15-point cushion (58-43) into
the final 10 minutes.
However, Habika’a slowly ate away at the gap and
Ezequiel Skverer’s three-pointer with 41 seconds to play closed the deficit to a
single point (72-71).
But Habika’a failed to score another point and
couldn’t complete the comeback, with Rishon advancing to its second final in
club history and first since losing 84-76 to Hapoel Galil Elyon in
Adrian Uter led Rishon with 19 points, with Joe Crawford, Derwin
Kitchen and Brandon Bowman adding 17, 15 and 14 points,
Frank Robinson scored 16 for Habika’a, with Paul Delaney
contributing 14 points.
“Habika’a never gave up and got back into the
game, but we held our nerve at the end,” Uter said. “We will need to play 40
great minutes to win the final.”
A Lior Eliyahu basket opened a 19-10 Tel
Aviv lead with 2:35 to play in the first quarter of the second semi of the night
and Guy Pnini’s three-point play to end the period extended the gap to 11 points
Holon remained within striking distance in the second frame, but
Maccabi was more concerned with Sofo’s health at halftime than its shrinking
lead, going into the interval with a 38-32 advantage following the Greek
center’s awkward fall with 2:15 remaining.
Holon must have been hopeful
of remaining in touch with Tel Aviv in the second half, but Devin Smith came out
of the locker rooms on fire, taking the margin to 46- 32 with a personal 8-0
Another Smith three extended the lead to 16 points (54- 38) midway
through the quarter and rendered the remaining 15 minutes all but
Devin Smith and Lior Eliyahu scored 20 points each for
“When David Blatt prepares for a game this is what it looks
like,” Holon coach Dan Shamir said. “We didn’t play well tonight. We somehow
only trailed by six points at the half, but we began the second half poorly and
couldn’t fight back.”