Gilboa/Galil came on strong yesterday to defeat Hapoel Jerusalem 79-69 to set up a final Super League showdown with perennial favorite Maccabi Tel Aviv, which breezed past Barak Netanya. After all the hype about Maccabi's recent struggles and Netanya's regular season win over the defending champion, the only surprise about their contest was how easily Maccabi picked apart the underdog's defense en route to a 104-78 rout.
The final is a rematch of last year's semifinal, in which Maccabi edged Galil 72-70.
In the first matchup, Jerusalem controlled the first half, playing a zone that forced Galil into making several unforced turnovers and taking too many shots from behind the arc (4-for-13 ). On offense, Brandon Hunter took advantage of Jerusalem's bigger front court to establish a 41-32 lead before Dagan Yavzuri hit a three-pointer to close the gap to six points at halftime.
Jerusalem coach Guy Goodes said his team erred by letting him shoot because it had two fouls to give, and that the basket was a momentum-changer.
Galil took the court a completely different team in the third quarter, and took the lead in a matter of minutes. "The first half was a mixture of excitement and being rusty," said Galil coach Oded Katash, referring to the team's two-week break before the game.
Jeremy Pargo led Galil in scoring with 13 points. Guni Izraeli played consistently well, hitting a couple of well-timed baskets during Galil's second-half run, ending the night with 10 points, four rebounds and four assists.
Gal Mekel, who was nowhere to be seen the first 20 minutes, ran a brilliant half-court offense down the stretch. "I didn't get into the rhythm of the game and my shoulder was hurt, but in the second half I decided to get more aggressive," Mekel said after the game.
No excuse can explain the lack of team play by Jerusalem, which for the second consecutive season failed to make the final as the second-placed league team. Hapoel shot a miserable 4-for-29 - including 3-for-17 from the three-point range. "As a result of our frustration on defense, we had to throw up shots on offense," explained Hapoel's Yogev Ohayon. Team captain Yuval Naimi added that the team lacked discipline.
It didn't help that Jerusalem shot 55 percent from the freethrow line, though Galil was even more woeful at 54 percent.
Trailing 61-52 with eight minutes to go, Goodes sent out his trio of Pooh Jeter, Tre Simmons and Naimi, but Galil withstood his strongest lineup and pushed the lead to 12 at 70-58. Hapoel made one last charge in the final minute, partly thanks to Galil's poor foul shooting, and got as close as four before Galil put the game away with a couple of fast breaks.
"We didn't play great basketball in the second half," admitted coach Katash. "Defense won the game for us."
Katash added: "We came here feeling we deserve to get into the final. I've been associated with Galil for six years and am so happy to get here with this young squad, most of whom continued from last year."
No doubt this time
The way Maccabi blew away Netanya, it is hard to conceive that Bnei Hasharon had pushed the champion to the brink of elimination last week. Netanya was never a factor in the game, as Maccabi ran out to a 29-14 first quarter lead - and never looked back.
Tel Aviv spread out the scoring, with seven players reaching double figures, led by Guy Pnini's 16. Tony Washam was the only Netanya player who showed up the first half, scoring 14 of his team's first 16 points and finishing with a game-leading 26. Danilo Pinnock also woke up and scored 20, but with Maccabi scoring 60 points in the first half, the game was over early.
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