Haifa sets up final showdown with Mac TA

Greens overcome Hap J'lem in overtime semifinal win; Gershon's side edges Galil/Gilboa.

maccabi haifa basketball 248.88 (photo credit: Adi Avishai/BSL)
maccabi haifa basketball 248.88
(photo credit: Adi Avishai/BSL)
The Cinderella story of Maccabi Haifa basketball club reached new heights on Tuesday, with the team from the North pulling out a breathtaking 98-93 overtime win over Hapoel Jerusalem in the semifinals of the BSL's season-ending Final Four tournament. Haifa will play Maccabi Tel Aviv in Thursday's final after the top seed overcame a tough challenge to get past Hapoel Galil/Gilboa 72-70 in the second game of a doubleheader at the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv appeared to be breezing through its game with Galil, but in the end had to work hard for the win. Maccabi Haifa 98, Hapoel Jerusalem 93 (OT) The earlier game of the night had provided enough drama for both matches, with Haifa throwing away a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter before coming back to tie the game then storm to the win. In its first season back in the Premier League after six years in the lower tier, the team bankrolled by US businessman Jeffrey Rosen proved all its critics wrong by reaching Israeli basketball's biggest stage. "We accomplished something huge," Coach Avi Ashkenazi said. "We wanted to reach the Final Four and we did that. We wanted to advance to the final and we did that. Now we want to win the championship." Hapoel coach Guy Goodes was left practically speechless after seeing his team go on a stunning 21-0 run at the start of the final stanza, and then lose it again at the end. "We feel terrible," Goodes said. "We should have finished the game when we took an eight point lead in the fourth period. We didn't make the most of our opportunity and our opponents did." Malik Dixon, who scored the last gasp basket for Hapoel Holon in last season's final, joined Haifa late this year, but made a significant impact on Tuesday's game, with eight of his 12 points coming in the last 15 minutes. However, Dixon put on a modest face after the victory, telling reporters, "I think the entire team deserves credit for continuing to fight even after Jerusalem's comeback." Jerusalem entered the game as a slight favorite, but it was Haifa which quickly seized control of the proceedings. Ashkenazi's club opened an early double-digit margin and was unstoppable from beyond the arc, with Moshe Mizrahi's third three-pointer of the game giving the team a 15-4 lead. Jerusalem closed to within three points with 35 seconds to play in the first period after Omar Sneed's triple, but Amit Ben-David capped an excellent first quarter for Maccabi with a three-point play to open a 23-17 gap. Haifa quickly reestablished its comfortable margin at the start of the second period, once more thanks to its accurate shooting from beyond the arc. Ben-David and Gur Porat combined to score five threes in the second quarter and Haifa went into the break with its biggest lead of the night to that stage after Perkins beat the buzzer with his jumper (53-39). Hapoel struggled to make any serious inroads into Haifa's lead in the third period trailing by double-digits throughout the quarter and entered the final 10 minutes down by 13 points (68-55). However, Jerusalem exploded out of the gates at the start of the fourth period, with Haifa completely helpless on both the defensive and offensive ends of the court. A Sharon Sasson three with 4.19 to play in the game capped a 21-0 run to start the fourth quarter, turning the match completely on its head and giving Hapoel a 76-68 lead. Haifa took six minutes to finally score its first points of the fourth, but with 55 seconds remaining Jefferson tied the score at 80-80. Malik Dixon evened the contest once more with nine seconds left on the clock and Perkins almost won the game for Haifa at the buzzer after stealing the ball from Bowers but missing a lay-up he really should have scored. However, the heartbreaking miss wouldn't dampen Haifa's spirits and Maccabi began overtime with a quick five points. Hapoel was always in a frantic chase to catch Haifa after that and, in the end, simply couldn't manage to close the margin. As always, Haifa's big two came up with the goods, with Davon Jefferson scoring 24 points and taking 10 rebounds and Perkins finishing one assist shy of a triple-double, scoring 22 points, hauling down 11 rebounds, dishing nine assists and stealing the ball five times. Porat added 15 points and seven rebounds, with Dixon scoring 13 points and Mizrahi and Ben-David contributing 11 points each. Jerusalem also had six players in double-figures, with Travis Watson leading the way with 24 points and 10 rebounds. Bowers added 20 points and nine rebounds, but that wasn't enough for Hapoel which ended its season disappointingly early. Maccabi Tel Aviv 72, Hapoel Galil/Gilboa 70 The second semi began slowly with Maccabi scoring first but leading only 1-0 through a D'or Fischer free throw with two and a half minutes gone. However, little by little Pini Gershon's team built a significant advantage. Galil didn't get its first points until more than four minutes had passed, when Dagan Yavzuri scored to bring the Northerners back to 7-2. Maccabi knew it was by no means going to be easy going and worked hard to hold on to a 10-point lead as the opening quarter (17-7) drew to a close. Tel Aviv held on to its lead through the end of the half, with only a buzzer-beating Brian Roberts three-pointer for Galil cutting the lead to seven points (37-30). Galil continued to cut into Maccabi's lead in the second half, closing to within six points (58-52) with ten minutes to go. Suddenly, Galil took its first lead of the game with six minutes left, when Isiah Swann scored a three-pointer to put the team up 64-63, and it was anyone's game. The lead changed hands as the minutes and seconds ticked away, but Maccabi held its ground and managed to pull out the ever-so-tight victory. Lior Eliyahu led Maccabi with 20 points, with Fischer adding 14 points and 10 rebounds and Omri Casspi contributing 11 points and nine rebounds. Elishay Kadir had 17 points and nine rebounds for Galil, with Dion Dowell adding 13 points for Oded Katash's disappointed men.