Hap Jerusalem ekes by Robinson, Hap TA

Smith pilots Reds into semis with furious second-half rally • Rishon regains mojo, eliminates Mac Haifa.

One of the key matchups in the BSL quarterfinal series between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
One of the key matchups in the BSL quarterfinal series between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s dream of defending its BSL championship is still alive – but just barely – after the Reds edged Hapoel Tel Aviv 86-84 in the decisive Game 5 of their quarterfinal series at the Jerusalem Arena on Wednesday night.
Jerusalem trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half and was willed to victory by Donta Smith, who finished the night with 33 points and eight rebounds.
Nate Robinson gave Tel Aviv an 84-83 lead with 32.9 seconds remaining, but E.J.
Rowland scored twice from the line at the other end and the visitors made a mess of their final play, with Robert Rothbart ultimately rimming out the crucial shot.
Robinson led Tel Aviv with 22 points in what was in all likelihood his final game in Israel.
Jerusalem needs two more wins to claim its second straight league title and will play Hapoel Eilat in the Final Four semis at the Jerusalem Arena next Monday.
The final will take place on Thursday.
Maccabi Rishon Lezion will face Maccabi Tel Aviv in Monday’s other Final Four semifinal after the former defeated Maccabi Haifa 70-60 in Game 5 on the road earlier Wednesday.
Maccabi Tel Aviv swept Bnei Herzliya 3-0 last week.
Haifa had tied the series against Rishon at 2-2 with two straight victories and was looking to become just the third BSL team to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a series. But it was Rishon which prevailed in the decisive encounter on Wednesday, thanks in large to Darryl Monroe, who finished the game with 27 points and 13 rebounds.
In Jerusalem, the hosts completely lost their heads in the final five minutes of the first period, allowing Tel Aviv an astronomical 22 points.
The visitors scored 13 of the final 17 points of the quarter, with Nate Robinson’s three-pointer opening a 35-23 lead after 10 minutes.
Tel Aviv’s margin reached a record 18 points (45-27) in the second frame, but Jerusalem would crucially limit the damage until halftime. The defending champion ended the first half with a 13-1 run to close within six points (46-40), setting up a dramatic second half.
The visitors remained in the lead throughout the third period, but Jerusalem was never far behind and the teams were separated by just three points (64-61) entering the fourth quarter.
Six straight points, capped by a Jeff Allen basket, gave Tel Aviv some breathing space (73-65) with 6:20 minutes remaining, but Jerusalem scored the next 10 points, with Tony Gaffney’s three with 3:30 to play giving his team its first lead (75-73) since early in the first quarter before a dramatic finish ensued.
In Haifa, Rishon looked sharp from the start, opening the night with a 14-3 run.
The hosts closed to within four points (18- 14) by the end of the first period, but Rishon remained in control until the break, taking a nine-point gap (36-27) into the interval.
Rishon still looked comfortable when it led by 12 points (42-30) with six minutes remaining in the third frame, but a 12-0 surge in just over two minutes tied the score and the Greens built a six-point advantage (51-45) after scoring 20 of 23 points.
Haifa took a four-point edge into the final 10 minutes, but Rishon opened the quarter with a 10-0 run and never surrendered the lead. The hosts were within striking distance for much of the period, but their fans were crying at the end of the game, and those were not tears of joy.
Mark Lyons added 12 points for Rishon, with Will Graves finishing with 18 points for Haifa.