The teams may have both undergone significant personnel changes, but for the
second straight year, Maccabi Tel Aviv will face Hapoel Gilboa/Galil for the BSL
Gilboa’s leading scorer, Marco Killingsworth, wasn’t even
on the team at the start of this season, and Tel Aviv star point guard Jeremy
Pargo, who signed a two-year extension with an NBA clause on Tuesday, was on the
opposite bench a year ago.
Nevertheless, the league’s top two teams
deserve to once again be facing off for the trophy on Thursday, and like last
year, Maccabi is the clear favorite.
Both were convincing on Tuesday
night at Nokia Arena, though Tel Aviv much more so in its 100-77 win over
Maccabi Rishon Lezion. Gilboa/Galil had a more difficult time with the Reds from
Jerusalem – whom they also beat in last year’s semifinal – but prevailed in the
Six players reached double-figures for Tel Aviv, led by Pargo
(17 points, three steals) and Milan Macvan (15).
Raymar Morgan led Rishon
with a game-high 24 points, and Dwayne Mitchell finished with 16 points and 13
Killingsworth led Gilboa once again, scoring 19 points, while
Yogev Ohayon led Jerusalem with 13 points and four assists.
One of the most impressive displays of the evening came at its outset, as
Maccabi Tel Aviv fans unfurled an enormous banner depicting BSL chairman Avner
Koppel surrounded by the words “in soccer we forfeit half the points – in
basketball we forfeit a whole year,” in protest of the Final Four format, now in
its sixth year.
Representatives from all four Final Four teams sent out a
joint letter on Monday, threatening to boycott next year’s Final Four should the
league continue with the current format.
The fans, who made their
feelings toward Koppel known throughout the night and handed out flyers
detailing their cause, believe that the decision was made to hurt Maccabi, which
could go 26-1 on the season, as it did this year, but still have to survive a
single-elimination tournament to win the championship.
But after last
night’s drubbing of Rishon, Maccabi seems determined to render its supporters’
Maccabi Tel Aviv 100, Maccabi Rishon Lezion 77 The hosts
shot 58 percent and held the fifth-seed to 44 percent from the field.
think we came very prepared,” said Tel Aviv coach David Blatt. “We have a lot of
respect for Rishon, and they played well against Bnei Hasharon in their series
[won by Rishon 3-1]. We knew that we had to focus and maintain a high level of
play, and I think we did that.”
One minute into the game, Tel Aviv led
the visitors 3-2.
Five minutes later, it was 20-2.
yellow-and-blue converted three backcourt steals into three three-pointers in
that span, and its length and quickness on defense gave it a clear advantage
throughout the night, yielding 18 Rishon turnovers.
Tel Aviv took a
15-point lead at 28-13 with one minute remaining in the first quarter – and led
by as much as 32, at 84-52 early in the fourth.
Rishon’s situation looked
most promising early in the second half, when it went on a 9-0 spurt to trail
56-40. Morgan stoked the run with back-to-back dunks, and Rishon suddenly looked
like a team that could make Maccabi sweat.
But the yellow-and-blue
responded with a 13-2 run to put the game out of reach, highlighted by a Pargo
dunk and a Macvan three – only his sixth of the year – to lead
From that point, Rishon played like a team resigned to its fate
and suffered a 23-point loss that felt more like a 40- point one.
Maccabi, you have to worry about so many different things,” Rishon coach Effi
Birenboim said. “I have to admit, they’re a better team than us, and on this
court it’s very tough to beat them.”
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil 98, Hapoel
Jerusalem 80 Gilboa won with its two-point offense and three-point defense, as
it shot 25-37 (68 percent) from within the arc and held Jerusalem to 4-19 (21
percent) from three.
Both sides had trouble corralling defensive rebounds
early on, but Gilboa made more of its second-chance opportunities count, and led
26-19 after one.
Jerusalem looked more focused in the second period, and
led 35-32 after a 16- 6 run to open the quarter.
The game stayed tight
and the halftime horn sounded with Jerusalem holding a 46-42 lead, but with both
teams feeling equally good about their chances.
A record-breaking third
quarter for Gilboa smashed the game wide open, however.
scored 35 points in the period, a Final Four record, and they did it thanks to
both inside and outside dominance.
Killingsworth asserted himself early
and often in the quarter, and scored 11 points in less than three minutes,
giving Gilboa a 55-51 lead.
Jerusalem coach Oded Katash tried to
neutralize him with the insertion of Sam Clancy, who thundered home a dunk
seconds after he entered the game.
But Gilboa’s perimeter shooting was up
to the task of a heavier workload, as Dagan Yavzuri, Warren Carter and Guni
Izraeli all nailed long-range bombs to pace an 18-4 run and give Gilboa a 16-
point lead (73-57) eight minutes into the third.
Courtney Fells also
contributed to the run with a booming dunk from the baseline, and Jerusalem
looked as if the game was slipping out of its control.
The Reds managed
to stem the bleeding as the quarter wound down, but trailed 77-63 with 10
minutes to go.
Things got worse for them as Gilboa scored the quarter’s
first four points to lead by a game-high 18 (81-63).
Jerusalem stepped up
its defense at that stage, and clawed back within 10 (83-73) with just under
four to play.
But the Reds lost patience on offense, and another booming
Fells dunk bumped Gilboa’s lead back up to 14 (89-75).
From that point,
Jerusalem needed steals and three-pointers, and got neither on its way to a
second straight semifinal loss to Gilboa.
Whether the rest of the story
unfolds like last year – with the northerners celebrating in front of a stunned
Nokia Arena – will have to wait until Thursday.