Yellow-and-blue prances into Final Four

Maccabi Tel Aviv joined Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL Final Four on Thursday, beating Barak Netanya 92- 78 at Nokia Arena to complete a 3-0 series sweep.

Schortsanitis 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Schortsanitis 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv joined Hapoel Jerusalem in the BSL Final Four on Thursday, beating Barak Netanya 92- 78 at Nokia Arena to complete a 3-0 series sweep.
It took Maccabi a full half to find its rhythm and forget about the disappointment of losing in the Euroleague final to Panathinaikos on Sunday, but its 15-2 run at the start of the third quarter was more than enough to break Netanya’s resistance and book a place in the season-ending tournament.
Lior Eliyahu rebounded from a poor continental Final Four with 22 points and six assists, with Sofoklis Schortsanitis adding 15 points and Jeremy Pargo scoring 14.
Adrian Banks had 20 points for Netanya, which never really believed it had a chance of winning even one game against Maccabi.
Tel Aviv will now face the winner of the series between Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Bnei Hasharon in the Final Four semis on May 24, with Rishon holding a 2-1 lead after winning 82-75 on the road on Thursday.
Bnei Hasharon held a 23-20 edge after 10 minutes and scored the first six points of the second period to open a nine-point margin after a Shawn James basket.
The hosts still had an eight-point cushion (42-34) at halftime and looked to be in control when James opened a double-digit lead (48-38) at the start of the third quarter.
However, a 17-4 Rishon run turned the game on its head and the visitors took a 59-55 lead into the final 10 minutes.
Bnei Hasharon closed to within two points (67-65) midway through the final frame, but never came closer and Rishon held on for a crucial victory.
Raymar Morgan had 22 points for the winners, with Yehu Orland scoring 14 for Rishon, which will be looking to close out the series at home on Sunday.
“We defended poorly in the first half, but we played playoff defense after the break and that was the key,” Rishon coach Effi Birenboim said.
“We have a lot of winners on court, but sometimes that causes a problem because each of them thinks he should have the ball. If we continue to play good defense in Game 4, we will be in the Final Four.”
James had 22 points and nine rebounds for Bnei Hasharon, which has to win on Sunday to have any hope of reaching a first Final Four since 2008.
Also, Hapoel Gilboa/Galil took a 2- 1 advantage over Hapoel Holon on Thursday with an 89-73 home victory, moving within one win of booking a Final Four meeting with Jerusalem, which completed a 3-0 sweep of Maccabi Ashdod on Wednesday.
After seeing its five-game winning streak snapped in Game 2 in Holon, the regular season runner-up surged into an early lead on Thursday, opening a 25-17 margin after 10 minutes.
The gap mushroomed to 16 points (44-28) by the interval and the second half was mostly garbage time, with both teams already looking ahead to Sunday’s Game 4 in Holon.
Dagan Yavzuri scored 24 points, including six of seven from threepoint range, with Marco Killingsworth adding 16 points and Gal Mekel coming two rebounds short of a rare triple-double, contributing 11 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.
Rich Melzer had 24 points and eight rebounds for Holon.
In the relegation playoffs, Maccabi Haifa closed within one victory of securing BSL survival, thrashing Ironi Ashkelon 91-72 in Nesher.
Haifa led by as many as 22 points in the second period, but it was Ashkelon which had a one-point edge (60-59) with 10 minutes to play.
However, Haifa would outscore the visitors 32-12 in the fourth quarter for an important win to take a 2-1 series lead on its way to another season of top-flight basketball.
Sylven Landesberg scored 25 points for Haifa, with Rodney Green netting 28 for the losers, who host Game 4 on Sunday.