David vs Goliath as Ashdod to face Mac TA

Berkowitz’s boys beat Birenboim’s bunch to roar into BSL title game against yellow-and-blue.

MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Devin Smith 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
MACCABI TEL AVIV’S Devin Smith 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Ashdod advanced to the BSL title game for the first time in its history on Tuesday and will face Maccabi Tel Aviv for the championship on Thursday after the reigning champion cruised into yet another final.
Ashdod recovered from a nervy first half to claim a comfortable 75-68 win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion in the first semifinal of the evening at Nokia Arena before Tel Aviv crushed Hapoel Holon 102-73 after opening a 24- point gap (40-16) in less than 13 minutes.
Ashdod took control of its encounter by outscoring Rishon 28-17 in the third quarter and clinched the win thanks to its defensive play and rebounding.
Ofer Berkowitz’s team out-rebounded Rishon 43-24 while holding Effi Birenboim’s men to just 40 percent (17 of 42) from two-point range and 29% (9 of 31) from beyond the arc.
Robby Bostain and Josh Carter had 16 points and six rebounds each for Ashdod, which shot 18 of 26 from two-point range (69%) and won despite committing 23 turnovers.
“This is an amazing achievement,” said Berkowitz, whose team knocked out No. 2 seed Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the quarterfinal playoffs before getting the better of No. 3 seed Rishon.
“We showed what a big heart we have. We spoke at the break about having to loosen up in the second half. I told the players that if we play at our usual level we will not lose. This is almost like winning the championship. I hope we can play like this in the final as well.”
Josh Duncan added 15 points for Ashdod, with Meir Tapiro scoring 10 and Alex Tyus finishing with eight points and 15 boards.
“We were a little overexcited in the first half, including myself,” said the 37-year-old Tapiro, who will play in the final for the first time since 2007 when his Hapoel Jerusalem team was edged by Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“This is as big as it gets. The entire city of Ashdod is going crazy. I’m happy that at my age I’m still playing and enjoying my basketball. I hope we will also enjoy ourselves on Thursday.”
Derwin Kitchen had 26 points for Rishon, which desperately missed the injured Joe Crawford.
The second semi was far more one-sided, with Tel Aviv completely dominating Holon.
Devin Smith had 19 points and eight rebounds for Maccabi, with Yogev Ohayon scoring 18, Keith Langford 17, Richard Hendrix 13 and Lior Eliyahu and David Blu 10 points each.
“I’m pleased we were sharp from the start,” said Ohayon. “But we have only done half the job and we need to remain focused for two more days.”
Sean Daniel scored 19 for Holon, with Tasmin Mitchell adding 16.
“We played the way we wanted from the start,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt.
“We raced ahead from the middle of the first quarter and remained in control until the end.”
Blatt has no intention of taking Ashdod lightly.
“Ashdod has already beaten us at Nokia this season,” Blatt noted. “We were playing the second game of a back-toback, but they still beat us. We definitely have to be wary.”
Ashdod’s early jitters meant Rishon opened a six-point lead (19-13) after 10 minutes.
Amit Ben-David’s basket to start the second quarter increased the gap to eight points, but Rishon failed to fully punish Ashdod for its early turnovers, with Bostain capping a 7-0 Ashdod run which brought Berkowitz’s team within a single point (26-25).
Rishon still had the edge (34-32) at the break, but Ashdod wouldn’t need long to move into the lead and seize the initiative with an almost perfect offensive quarter.
Rishon had no answer for Carter, Tyus and Bostain, whose ninth point of the period to end the frame gave Ashdod a 60-51 margin.
Meir Tapiro’s three-pointer to start the fourth quarter took the gap to double-digits (63-51) and Ashdod maintained at least a six point lead until the final whistle to make history.
Holon kept pace with Maccabi for the first six minutes of the second semi of the night, with Daniel’s triple tying the score at 14-14.
However, Tel Aviv soon grabbed complete control, ending the first quarter with a 16-0 run (30-14).
Blatt’s decision to play Guy Pnini together with Devin Smith left Holon helpless and Eliyahu’s trademark basket in the 13th-minute of the game opened a 40-16 gap from which Holon was never going to comeback.
Dan Shamir’s side managed to close within 17 points (51- 34) by halftime, but it came no closer than 13 in the second half, dropping to a humbling defeat.