Tel Aviv, Gilboa to meet again for BSL title

Yellow-and-blue dominates Rishon while Hap J’lem falls, setting up championship rematch.

By JACOB KANTER
May 25, 2011 05:22
Sofoklis Schortsanitis

Sofo 311. (photo credit: Oded Karni)

 
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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 championship.

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.

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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 end 98-80.

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 rebounds.

Killingsworth led Gilboa once again, scoring 19 points, while Yogev Ohayon led Jerusalem with 13 points and four assists.



Final format? 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’ complaints moot.

Maccabi Tel Aviv 100, Maccabi Rishon Lezion 77 The hosts shot 58 percent and held the fifth-seed to 44 percent from the field.

“I 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.

The 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 69-42.

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.

“With 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.

The northerners 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.

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