Maccabi TA desperate for a win to save QF series

It's been some 17 years since the last played a deciding Game 5 in a playoff series, but the pain still stings.

Maccabi Tel Aviv finds itself in an unfamiliar position entering Monday night’s quarterfinal playoff Game 5 against Bnei Hasharon at the Nokia Arena.
It has been some 17 years since Maccabi last played a deciding Game 5 in a playoff series, but the pain from the loss to Hapoel Galil Elyon at Kfar Blum still stings.
Galil, led by current Maccabi coach Pini Gershon, ended Tel Aviv’s 23-year long streak of championships on its way to an historic and unforgettable title.
However, besides the added pressure, there are very few other similarities between Monday’s encounter and that famous showdown at Kfar Blum.
As Gershon noted, Galil was not only the better team at the time, but it was also hosting the game.
No one doubts Maccabi’s superiority over Bnei Hasharon, but Tel Aviv’s complacency has unexpectedly cost it dearly in the series, both on the road and at home.
Bnei Hasharon stunned Maccabi 89-79 in Game 1 at the Nokia Arena and despite losing the next two encounters by an average 27.5 points, continued to fight and evened up the series at 2-2 with a 91-81 win in Herzliya last Thursday.
“Both teams know each other very well and there will be no surprises,” Maccabi assistant coach Sharon Drucker said. “We will have to give a little extra and make the right adjustments. We don’t even want to think of the option that we may miss the Final Four.”
Maccabi guard Andrew Wisniewski is confident that he and his teammates will be up for Monday’s showdown and that they will complete the job they were expected to finish long ago.
“It is going to be a tough game,” Wisniewski said. “I don’t think we underestimated Bnei Hasharon, but we will have to come out and fight because we have no other option.” 
The winner of Monday’s game will face Barak Netanya in the Final Four next Tuesday, with Hapoel Jerusalem to play Hapoel Gilboa/Galil in the other semifinal.
Meanwhile, Hapoel Afula completed a sensational comeback to secure itself another season of BSL basketball on Sunday night.
Afula beat Ironi Ramat Gan 86-81 to claim a 3-2 victory in the relegation playoffs after losing the first two games of the series.
Ramat Gan seemed to be heading to a sweep after taking a convincing 2-0 lead, but Yaniv Burger’s team, which was rock-bottom of the standings for much of the season, could not close the series and lost three tight games on the trot by a combined 17 points.
“The pressure of the relegation playoffs is different to any other pressure,” Afula coach Eli Rab said.
“The team came through a very tough test. To comeback from 2-0 down is historic. Our goal was to stay in the league and we did it.”
Afula got off to the better start and led 29-21 after 10 minutes. A John Sharper three-pointer brought Ramat Gan to within four points (49-45) at the break and the visitors surged ahead in the third period, leading 65-61 with 10 minutes remaining.
Ramat Gan was in front by nine points (76-67) four minutes into the final frame, but a 12-0 run by Afula gave it a lead it would not relinquish on the way to BSL survival.
Steffon Bradford scored 22 points for Afula, with Sharper netting 21 for Ramat Gan, which was relegated to the National League for just the second time in the last 42 seasons.
The second relegation playoff series will be decided on Monday when Ironi Nahariya hosts Hapoel Holon in another decisive Game 5.
In other BSL news, Maccabi Haifa announced on Sunday that Avi Ashkenazi will be leaving the club after three seasons at the helm.
Ashkenazi led Haifa to BSL promotion in the 2007/08 season and took it to the Final Four title game and State Cup final last year.
However, Haifa suffered a disappointing exit at the hands of Netanya in the quarterfinals last week and owner Jeff Rosen decided it was time to part ways with the coach.