Mac Rishon, Mac TA to vie for State Cup

Birenboim’s boys knock off Habika’a; yellow-and-blue overcomes Sofo scare to top Holon.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Lior Eliyahu 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv's Lior Eliyahu 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Rishon Lezion advanced to the State Cup final for the first time in 20 years on Monday night, but it still has plenty of work remaining to claim a first title in club history as it will come up against an in-form Maccabi Tel Aviv at Nokia Arena on Thursday.
Effi Birenboim’s Rishon led by as many as 18 points against BC Habika’a, but had to survive a late scare before coming through to win 78-71.
Tel Aviv’s biggest fright of the night came late in the first half when Sofoklis Schortsanitis hit the floor hard, clutching his knee and screaming with pain.
However, after being helped off court and going down to the dressing rooms, Sofo returned to the floor in the second half and Maccabi easily secured its progress with a 91-70 win over Hapoel Holon.
Maccabi will be going for its third straight cup triumph and 45th in club history, but Birenboim believes his team is ready for Tel Aviv after being beaten by the yellow-and-blue by a single point when they met in BSL action two months ago.
“We played very well tonight,” Birenboim said. “We played like a team that is ready for a challenge. I’m very encouraged by what I saw tonight. This is the reward for all our hard work.”
After a tight first period, Rishon built a double-digit lead over BC Habika’a by the break (40-30) and seemed to be cruising after taking a 15-point cushion (58-43) into the final 10 minutes.
However, Habika’a slowly ate away at the gap and Ezequiel Skverer’s three-pointer with 41 seconds to play closed the deficit to a single point (72-71).
But Habika’a failed to score another point and couldn’t complete the comeback, with Rishon advancing to its second final in club history and first since losing 84-76 to Hapoel Galil Elyon in 1992.
Adrian Uter led Rishon with 19 points, with Joe Crawford, Derwin Kitchen and Brandon Bowman adding 17, 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Frank Robinson scored 16 for Habika’a, with Paul Delaney contributing 14 points.
“Habika’a never gave up and got back into the game, but we held our nerve at the end,” Uter said. “We will need to play 40 great minutes to win the final.”
A Lior Eliyahu basket opened a 19-10 Tel Aviv lead with 2:35 to play in the first quarter of the second semi of the night and Guy Pnini’s three-point play to end the period extended the gap to 11 points (27-16).
Holon remained within striking distance in the second frame, but Maccabi was more concerned with Sofo’s health at halftime than its shrinking lead, going into the interval with a 38-32 advantage following the Greek center’s awkward fall with 2:15 remaining.
Holon must have been hopeful of remaining in touch with Tel Aviv in the second half, but Devin Smith came out of the locker rooms on fire, taking the margin to 46- 32 with a personal 8-0 run.
Another Smith three extended the lead to 16 points (54- 38) midway through the quarter and rendered the remaining 15 minutes all but meaningless.
Devin Smith and Lior Eliyahu scored 20 points each for Maccabi.
“When David Blatt prepares for a game this is what it looks like,” Holon coach Dan Shamir said. “We didn’t play well tonight. We somehow only trailed by six points at the half, but we began the second half poorly and couldn’t fight back.”