Jerusalem on cusp of first championship

Hap J’lem holds 15-point gap over Eilat ahead of second leg in front of sold-out arena.

Hapoel Jerusalem’s Bar Timor and Eilat’s Afik Nissim  (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s Bar Timor and Eilat’s Afik Nissim
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Complacency looks to be all that stands between Hapoel Jerusalem and an historic Israeli championship.
Jerusalem enters the return leg of the aggregate BSL final against Hapoel Eilat on Thursday with a 15-point cushion from Game 1, leaving it in an ideal position to clinch a first league title in club history.
The final 2,000 tickets for the second leg at the Jerusalem Arena were sold out within two minutes on Tuesday, with every Hapoel fan wanting to be at the arena to witness the moment they have long been waiting for.
Jerusalem registered a comfortable 80-65 victory in the first leg in Eilat on Monday, pulling ahead in the closing stages of the second quarter and remaining in complete control until the final buzzer.
After finishing as league runner- up on six occasions and failing to win any major title since the State Cup in 2008, Jerusalem is on the verge of a landmark achievement.
However, coach Danny Franco has been warning against complacency from the moment Game 1 ended and believes that Thursday’s showdown will be mental as much as physical.
“I can’t control what Eilat will do and all I care about is my team,” said Franco. “There have been plenty of situations in the past that teams have erased such deficits. We need to continue what we have done throughout the second half of the season.
We must maintain our focus, especially as we are playing at home and with all the hoopla surrounding this game.”
Eilat believes anything is possible after coming back from a 0-2 deficit to stun Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals. However, it looked drained on Monday and will need an almost superhuman effort to overhaul Hapoel in the second leg.
Jerusalem has not only won 22 of its past 24 regular season and playoff games over the last five months, but it has played its best basketball in recent weeks and looks to be in unstoppable form.
“We understand the hole we find ourselves in and know how important this game is for Jerusalem,” said Eilat coach Arik Shivek, who will likely have to manage without American Kevin Palmer after he dislocated his shoulder on Monday. “We have already achieved some pretty nice things this season and we are hoping to end the campaign well.”
Israeli guard Bar Timor is one of the Jerusalem players who have stepped up their play in the playoffs and he insisted he and his teammates will ignore the result of the first game and simply focus on winning on Thursday.
“Obviously this is the most important game of the season and we are very excited,” said Timor. “As soon as the first game finished we talked to each other and understood that we are only leading after the first half.
We realized that we must settle down and we are not thinking about our gap. We know we can make history and we are on the verge of something big.”