maccabi tel aviv and hapoel gilboa_311.
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
In their three previous BSL meetings this season, Maccabi Tel Aviv thrashed Hapoel Gilboa/Galil by an average of 19.7 points per game.
With the two teams to clash for a second straight year in the Final Four title game at Nokia Arena on Thursday night, the eventual champion seems to be almost preordained.
But not if you ask Gilboa coach Lior Lubin, who was an assistant to Oded Katash last year when Hapoel stunned Tel Aviv 90-77 to win its first championship since 1993.
“We will make all the needed preparations and especially work on the mental side,” said Lubin, who has reached the final in his debut season as a head coach. “We will be humble, but confident. No one talked about us at the start of the season, but we are back in the final and we deserve to be here.
“We have big dreams and we want to realize them. We believe we can take a second straight title.”
Maccabi might not have been as big a favorite last season as it will be on Thursday, though it was still widely expected to beat Gilboa and claim yet another championship.
But it was Galil which ended up dominating last season’s final, and Dagan Yavzuri is hoping for a repeat performance on Thursday.
“It will be tough, but we will prepare to the best of our ability and hope for the best,” Yavzuri said. “There’s a feeling that this season’s Maccabi is better than last year’s and I don’t really know if we are better as well. But we are facing a single game for the title and anything can happen so we will pray it does.”
Outside of its one and only league loss to Bnei Hasharon, Maccabi has hardly even been troubled in local play this season, including in Tuesday’s easy 100-77 semifinal victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
“We began the game exactly as we wanted, but this is only the beginning and we need to complete the job on Thursday,” said Tel Aviv forward Lior Eliyahu, with the yellow-and-blue beginning the game against Rishon with a 20-2 run. “The only reason there is a Final Four in Israel is to put us under more pressure. I’m happy we handled it well on Tuesday and I hope we do the same on Thursday. If we play in the final the way we did against Rishon and the way we have been doing all season we will win. The outcome of the final depends entirely on us.”
Gilboa reached its second consecutive final by ousting Hapoel Jerusalem in the semis for a second straight year, winning 98-80 on Tuesday.
Gilboa’s achievement is especially impressive as it came against Katash, its coach from last season, and with just four players returning from last year’s roster.
“I always believe. If I wouldn’t believe I probably wouldn’t have two Israeli championships on my resume,” said guard Avishai Gordon, who is one of the players remaining from last season and also has experience of claiming a league title with Hapoel Holon in 2008.
“There’s no doubt that Maccabi is the favorite, but we will come
prepared like we did in the semis and when everything comes together for
us we are very difficult to stop.”
Lubin believes he has the right mix of players to go all the way.
“We have some players who will be playing in the final for the first time so they are hungrier,” Lubin said.
“We also have players who were here last year so they are more
experienced and give us a good balance. My job is to give all the
However, even Lubin understands that Thursday’s result will be decided
first and foremost by what Maccabi does on the court, and the
yellow-and-blue is supremely confident of regaining the title it
considers its own and winning what would be a 49th Israeli championship.
“We played well on defense against Rishon and when we perform like that
we are very difficult to beat,” forward David Blu said. “We were very
focused and that was the key to the victory. I don’t see a scenario in
which we don’t lift the title on Thursday.”