Mac Haifa aims to reverse trend in Cup final vs Mac TA

Tel Aviv and Haifa have already met twice this season in BSL action, with the former eventually winning both encounters.

Maccabi Haifa’s Pat Calathes 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa’s Pat Calathes 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It was just last Sunday that Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Maccabi Haifa in BSL action at Nokia Arena for its 12th straight league win.
The teams will meet at Nokia once again on Thursday night, but this time there will be far more on the line, with the yellow-and- blue vying for its fourth consecutive State Cup triumph and Haifa hoping to lift an historic title.
Tel Aviv and Haifa have already met twice this season in BSL action, with the former eventually winning both encounters quite comfortably, 87-67 in Romema in November and 76-64 last week.
However, on both occasions, Haifa remained within striking distance of Tel Aviv for the first three periods before capitulating in the final frame.
Tel Aviv outscored the Greens by double-digits in the fourth quarters of each encounter, but Haifa guard Gal Mekel, who played for the yellow-and-blue in the 2008/09 season, is brimming with confidence ahead of Thursday’s showdown.
“We enter every game with the aim of winning it,” Mekel said. “Maccabi is very experienced in these situations, but we don’t care about that. We have a very talented team and we can beat them on a given day. We played terribly against Maccabi last week, but the game was still tied with eight minutes remaining. We can do this.”
Veteran Haifa center Ido Kozikaro, who has experienced a fair share of disappointments against Tel Aviv down the years, was slightly more cautious than his young teammate.
“Maccabi will be ready to play like one of the best team’s in Europe in the cup final,” said Kozikaro after Haifa’s 80-61 victory over Hapoel Jerusalem in Tuesday’s semifinal.
“Despite the absence of the injured Lior Eliyahu, Maccabi still has depth and a lot of talent. I believe we can win, but we will be entering the game as an underdog. God willing, I will lift my first title in Israel.”
Haifa was far from its best against Jerusalem, committing 26 turnovers and hitting just 6-of-18 three-point attempts.
However, the Greens dominated Hapoel under the baskets, hitting an amazing 83.8 percent of their two-point shots (26-of-31) and outrebounding the Reds 32-22.
Haifa’s defeat to Maccabi last week was its third in the past four BSL games, but coach Brad Greenberg is confident his team can display its best basketball when it matters most on Thursday night.
“We will give our best against Maccabi,” said Greenberg, who guided Haifa to its fourth ever cup final, with the Greens losing to Hapoel Holon at the buzzer when they last made it this far in 2009.
“David Blatt is one of the best coaches in the world. It’s unfortunate for them that Eliyahu is injured, but they have plenty of fire-power on their roster. Our guys played well and are working hard and as a coach you can’t ask for more than that.”
Eliyahu’s absence with a left-knee strain didn’t seem to affect Tel Aviv for the first half of Tuesday’s semi against Maccabi Ashdod, with the yellow-and-blue leading by as many as 19 points in the second quarter.
However, Blatt could have sure used Eliyahu when Ashdod closed to within two points in the third and fourth quarters, with Tel Aviv eventually surviving by the skin of its teeth, claiming an 85-80 victory.
“We were playing without our best Israeli player and it was a good job Sylven Landesberg stepped up,” said Blatt. “Haifa beat two excellent teams in Bnei Herzliya and Hapoel Jerusalem to reach the final. Many people thought Haifa wouldn’t overcome Jerusalem, but they played very well and we face a tough encounter on Thursday.”
Landesberg had 15 points for Maccabi, but it was Yogev Ohayon who led the team to the win from the backcourt with 18 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.
Ohayon faces Israel teammate Mekel in one of Thursday’s more intriguing matchups, but the game will likely be decided in the paint.
Haifa proved against Jerusalem what a force it can be when its big-men are in top form and it faces a Tel Aviv team with a depleted front court following Eliyahu’s injury and the release of Malcolm Thomas.
Haifa’s leading scorer Donta Smith (16.8 PPG) promised his team is not content with just reaching the final.
“We recorded a big win against Jerusalem, but we still have one more game before we lift the cup, so we’ve got nothing to celebrate just yet,” he said. “We have a great match-up against most of the teams in the league. We are the tallest team in the BSL and that is our biggest advantage.
“We made the most of it in the semis and now we will have to do the same in the final.”