Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel J'lem meet for season's first title

Maccabi, Hapoel to compete for State Cup; game promises to be a classic as both teams are in excellent shape.

maccabi TA 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
maccabi TA 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The first basketball title of the season will be up for grabs on Sunday night when Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem clash in the State Cup final at Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. The game promises to be a classic as both teams have been in fine form recently. Hapoel upended Italian power Lottomatica Roma on Tuesday to reach the semifinals of the ULEB Cup, while Maccabi scored a big win on Thursday at the home of another Italian force, Climamio Bologna. Maccabi will be aiming for its ninth straight cup and 36th overall. Jerusalem seeks its third win in its eighth appearance in the final. Hapoel's previous wins were at Tel Aviv's expense in 1996 and '97. Either way a new face will accept the Cup from President Moshe Katsav. Maccabi guard Derrick Sharp is in his first season as captain following Gur Shelef's decision to leave the club and play in Belgium. Hapoel's Meir Tapiro is also in his first season as team captain. When these teams met earlier in the season, Maccabi held on for a thrilling 100-98 win at Malha in a game that met and even surpassed expectations. Nikola Vujcic led Maccabi with 29 points and nine rebounds, while Tal Burstein added 17 points and eight assists. Burstein is not expected to play this time as he recovers from a sprained ankle. Maccabi will also be without big man Jaimie Arnold and shooting guard Kirk Penney since, unlike in the Euroleague, domestic rules limit teams to four foreign players. That means the defending champs will need solid play from each of the remaining seven players in the rotation. One player it should be able to count on is reigning Euroleague MVP Anthony Parker, who came up big with 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists in Bologna. Horace Jenkins led Jerusalem with 26 points against Maccabi last time, while Roger Mason Jr. added 21 and Mario Austin posted 18 points and 14 rebounds. Tapiro was the team's hottest player against Roma with 20 points and five assists. The most eagerly awaited match-up will take place between point guards Will Solomon and Jenkins. Solomon was a crowd favorite when he played in the capital two seasons ago and led the team to its first European crown in the ULEB Cup. However all was forgotten by the red supporters when he inked a deal with Maccabi. The pivotal duel between Solomon and the Hapoel fans' newest hero, Jenkins, will go a long way towards determining the outcome. The coaching match-up will also be key. Maccabi's Pini Gershon, who coached Hapoel to its first Cup win, faces Erez Edelstein, his assistant on that team. The friends and rivals know each other inside out and can always be counted on for a prime display of sideline antics and basketball tactics.