The Israel Winner League Basketball playoffs took a dramatic turn of events as both semifinal series will head to decisive Game 3’s for the right to book tickets to the finals, which gets under way next week.
Bnei Herzliya upended Maccabi Tel Aviv 97-81 in a blowout at the HaYovel Arena to set up a winner-take-all matchup on Wednesday night back at Yad Eliyahu while Hapoel Jerusalem topped Hapoel Holon 75-61 on the road to even up their series at 1-1 as a do-or-die contest awaits the squads on Thursday night back in the capital city.
Herzliya’s Chris Babb came back with a vengeance after a poor showing in the series opener as the guard scored as he pleased to pace the host side, which had six players in double digits en route to the 16-point victory.
After capturing the Israel State Cup at Yad Eliyahu, Herzliya will now attempt to beat Maccabi for the first time on the road after having already lost three times this season, while the yellow-and-blue will try to close out the series on its home court.
Oren Aharoni’s team scored early and often to open up the game as Babb and Chinanu Onuaku owned an overmatched yellow-and-blue to take a 30-19 lead after the opening 10 minutes. Maurice Kemp and Andy Van Vliet added points to offset Derrick Williams to go up 50-42 by halftime.
Herzliya came out flying in the second half as Quinton Hooker, Sandy Cohen and Babb bumped the lead up to 77-57 after 30 minutes before cruising to the blowout win.
Babb led all scorers with 23 points, Van Vliet added 16 points, Hooker scored 14 points while Onuaku recorded a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the win.
For Maccabi, Williams scored 18 points, James Nunnally scored 12 points as Ante Zizic and Jake Cohen chipped in with 10 points each in the loss.
“We had a terrific game,” Aharoni began. “In fact, we felt that in the last game we were competitive, but we just weren’t there offensively. In this game, we were there and we should be proud. We are now at 1-1 in the series with one more game to go. I have to give credit to all of the players for having one of the greatest games in franchise history.”
“This wasn’t a good enough game from us on both sides of the court,” Maccabi coach Avi Even said. “We didn’t get into our offense well and we lost our confidence. Herzliya scored tough shots and it was like a snowball effect from that point on. We will learn from this game and come into Game 3 ready to go.”
Babb, the game’s MVP, spoke about what made the difference between the first two games.
“It’s just about adjustments, a bad game or a couple of bad games isn’t the end of the world and not the end of the season. Our focus was to stay together and stay confident and that’s what we did. We played together and we stayed together.”
Maccabi guard Keenan Evans pointed out what the team needs to do in order to win the decisive third game.
“Defense, it’s the only thing. We came in with pretty much the same game plan this time around, but their role players were making shots. It’s a different arena and they may be used to it more, but defense has to travel.”
Meanwhile, Hapoel Jerusalem downed Hapoel Holon on the road thanks to terrific play from Jalen Adams and a magnificent game plan from head coach Yotam Halperin to even up their semifinal series at 1-1.
The Reds stymied Guy Goodes’s squad all game long with suffocating defense and intelligent lineups to go along with smart offensive possessions to notch the double-digit victory.
Adams was a one-man wrecking crew for Jerusalem over the course of the first half while Rafi Menco tried to counter for Holon. But the Reds’ defense kept the Purples’ dynamic duo of Joe Ragland and Tyrus McGee at bay to take a 40-35 lead at halftime.
Jerusalem’s defense continued to do the job in the third quarter while Itay Segev and John Egbunu controlled the pace of play as Retin Obasohan and Noam Dovrat scored down the stretch to polish off the win.
Adams led the way with 23 points, Dovrat added 14 points and Obasohan scored all of his 11 points in the final frame to take the victory. McGee scored 17 points and Menco chipped in with 10 points for Holon in the loss.
“It was clear that from the first seconds of the game that we were able to do what we wanted to and we were able to follow our game plan,” Halperin said. “To give up only 61 points to Holon shows that we can play defense. It’s not easy to win in this arena and I’m happy that we were able to do so twice this season.”
“Unfortunately it wasn’t our best game, but the atmosphere was amazing,” noted Goodes. “As good as the fans were, they can’t score points and Jerusalem did a better job than us. They also went to the line much more than I would have liked. This was like Boston and Miami [in the NBA] where each team won on the other’s court and hopefully that trend will continue on Thursday.”
Obasohan reflected on the victory that sent the series to a Game 3.
“It was a tale of two halves and we were able to increase our intensity in the second half which has been the message we have had all season long. We knew we had to pick it up in the second half and we found the open man and we were able to finish off our plays.”
Holon’s Michale Kyser also reflected on the game.
“We started off pretty well but we were trailing the whole game and that’s the same thing that happened in Jerusalem for them. We just tried to play catch up the entire game. Their energy was better than ours and we have to focus on the next game on Thursday.”