Upset bids take center stage in BSL playoffs

Gilboa/Galil, Mac Rishon facing elimination at hands of Ashdod and Ashkelon, respectively.

Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After an impressive regular season, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil and Maccabi Rishon Lezion face the unthinkable prospect of being swept in the BSL quarterfinal playoffs on Thursday.
Gilboa ended the regular season standings in second place with a 16-9 record and looked to be a clear favorite to overcome the stuttering Maccabi Ashdod (12-12) in the best-of-five series.
However, Ashdod’s decision to take its foot off the gas after securing the No. 7 seed has paid off better than coach Ofer Berkowitz could have expected, with his team winning the series opener in Gan Ner before taking a 2-0 lead with a 75-69 home victory on Monday.
“Nothing is over yet and that is the only way we can approach this game,” said Gilboa coach Lior Lubin after seeing his team lose its second straight nail-biter to Ashdod.
“We lost control and were punished for that. We will have to make sure we are composed so that we can stop Ashdod’s runs. A lack of composure has cost us dearly in this series.”
No Israeli team has ever come back from a 2-0 deficit to advance to the Final Four and Ashdod’s Josh Carter, who is averaging 22.0 points and 4.5 rebounds in the playoffs so far, has no intention of allowing Gilboa to become the first.
“We will be going all out in Game 3,” Carter said. “Gilboa is a good team and I hope we can beat them again on the road.”
Rishon Lezion is also playing against history after dropping the first two games in its series against Ironi Ashkelon, each by a single point.
Rishon entered the playoffs brimming with confidence after winning five of its final seven regular season games, but coach Effi Birenboim was infuriated following Game 2, feeling that the referees robbed his team for a second straight time.
“The series isn’t over yet,” said Birenboim after his team fell to a 2-0 deficit, with Niv Berkowitz clinching Ashkelon’s win from the line with 0.6 seconds to play.
“I watch basketball from across the world and there should not have been a foul called on Berkowitz. I feel bad for my players. They keep getting frustrated by critical calls from the refs. It is my job to lift them ahead of Game 3.”
Ashkelon ended the regular season with eight straight defeats, six of them by double-digits, but just like Ashdod, it now finds itself within one win of a first ever appearance in the Final Four.
“We are one win away from history and we need to try and clinch the series in Rishon,” Ashkelon coach Eric Alfasi said. “I don’t think the refs decided Game 2. We deserved to win because we were far better.”
While it would hardly be a surprise should Gilboa and Rishon force a fourth game with a home win on Thursday, it seems all but certain that Maccabi Tel Aviv will become the first team to book its place in the Final Four when it hosts BC Habika’a at Nokia Arena.
After winning Game 1 by 23 points, Maccabi thrashed Habika’a by 35 earlier this week and Habika’a coach Avi Ashkenazi already summarized his team’s season after its recent humbling, explaining that there would not be a Game 4.
“I don’t think anyone will put money on us winning in Nokia,” he said. “We had a reasonable season, but it could have been better.”
At least one series is guaranteed to only be decided next week, with Hapoel Jerusalem hosting Hapoel Holon on Thursday, knotted at 1-1.
So far, each team has won at home, with Jerusalem edging Holon 78-73 in Game 1 in Malha Arena before Dan Shamir’s men defeated Sharon Drucker’s side 72-70 to tie the series.
“We were well placed to take a 2-0 lead, but we missed free throws, which is something you cannot afford to do in games like this,” Drucker said. “We made some bad decisions and it cost us the game. We start afresh on Thursday and we will have to continue and work as hard as ever.”