Packed slate with all four series back in action

Mac TA, Mac Haifa, Hap J’lem all look to sweep as Eilat and Rishon locked in tight duel.

bball 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
bball 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Three teams can already punch their tickets to the BSL playoff semifinals on Thursday night as Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Jerusalem all look to complete a 3-0 sweep in the quarterfinals.
Only a stunning upset will deny perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv a place in the last four on Thursday, with the yellow- and-blue hosting Hapoel Tel Aviv at Nokia Arena after winning 80-67 on the road on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
Hapoel threatened not to show up for Game 3 after having its seat allocation reduced due to its fans’ clashes with police in the series opener.
Unsurprisingly, the Reds eventually agreed to play the game after a compromise was reached and they will be hoping to extend their season against all odds with a win on Thursday.
“It is never easy to lose, especially when the fans give you such strong support,” Hapoel guard Anthony Goods wrote on his Facebook page after Sunday’s defeat.
“I just want all our fans to know that no one on our team will ever give up and that you deserve a win in the next game. It isn’t over until it’s over.”
Despite Goods’s optimism, Maccabi forward Lior Eliyahu knows that the outcome of Game 3 will depend solely on his team’s performance.
“We knew that Game 2 would be crucial and I’m happy that we managed to survive some tough moments and claim a win,” said Eliyahu. “It won’t be easy in Nokia, but the game depends on us and we should beat Hapoel at home. We have got momentum on our side and if we do our job we will be fine.”
Hapoel’s biggest problem in the series, and the season in general, has been its offensive output. Erez Edelstein’s team averaged a league-low 73.4 points per game in the regular season, four points fewer than the BSL’s second worst side. The Reds have fared no better in the quarterfinals, scoring 67 and 68 points, respectively, in the first two games of the playoffs.
“We will always believe we can beat any team,” said Hapoel center Curtis Kelly. “We will continue to give our all.”
Maccabi Haifa seemed to be stuttering into the playoffs when it found itself in a seven-point deficit late in its final regular season game against Hapoel Eilat after losing three of its previous four contests.
However, a dramatic 9-0 run gave Haifa a 77-75 victory over Eilat and catapulted the Greens up to second place.
Haifa has carried the momentum into the post-season and Brad Greenberg’s team can wrap up its quarterfinal series against Hapoel Gilboa/Galil on Thursday after claiming a convincing 93-81 win on the road in Game 2.
“It is never easy to beat Gilboa on the road,” noted Greenberg. “I’m especially pleased by the fact that we also improved on our performance from Game 1.”
While it is hardly surprising that Maccabi Tel Aviv and Haifa are cruising to the semis, few experts predicted that Jerusalem would be in a position to sweep Barak Netanya.
Jerusalem entered the series without home-court advantage after ending a dismal regular season with a losing record (13-14), falling in seven of its final nine encounters.
However, Hapoel has hit top form at the right time, outplaying Netanya in the first two games of the playoffs to take a commanding 2-0 advantage into Game 3 in Netanya on Thursday.
“We had a meeting with all the players and asked ourselves if we want to end the season with a good taste in our mouths as a united team or as a bunch of players chasing personal stats,” explained forward Courtney Fells. “I’m happy that the meeting served its purpose and that everyone is now seeing the real Hapoel Jerusalem.”
The only series which is guaranteed to go at least four games returns to Eilat for Game 3 on Thursday when the local Hapoel hosts Maccabi Rishon Lezion.
Rishon Lezion stunned Eilat on the road in Game 1, but Oded Katash’s men responded with a 91-63 thrashing in Rishon on Monday and are once more firm favorites to reach the semis.