Prior to the Final Four, Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon said the semifinal system was set up to thwart the perennial Israeli monolith. Last night, Gershon's words proved prophetic.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil Elyon shocked the defending champions 90-77 in the Super League final at Yad Eliahu in Tel Aviv last night to win the national championship.
Before last night's game, observers wondered how Gilboa/Galil would overcome its height disadvantage against heavily favored Maccabi. Yet it was Gilboa/Galil's feline quickness and deadly perimeter shooting that proved the difference in crunch time, as Oded Katash's charges staved off a furious fourth quarter rally.
Forward Dion Dowell, who was nowhere to be found in the first half, exploded in the final quarter, pushing his team to a double-digit lead with three-point shooting and timely baskets.
Maccabi, which was plagued by foul trouble in what was a tightly officiated ballgame, had no answer for Gilboa's diminutive yet dynamic guard, Jeremy Pargo, who dominated the third quarter with slicing penetration and precision shooting from outside. Gershon's crew had focused their defensive efforts in stopping Gilboa's impressive power forward, Elishay Kadir.
Yet it was Dowell, Pargo and Brian Randle who provided Katash's team with the lift it needed. Randle led the way with 19 points on 8-13 shooting from the floor, while Dowell chipped in 15 points, including three-of-four from three-point range. Pargo also scored 15 points and hauled in seven rebounds.
With the exception of forward Guy Pnini, Maccabi's offense was anemic. Alan Anderson contributed just seven points, while Doron Perkins was maddeningly inconsistent with his stroke during the game's most critical juncture. Perkins concluded the game with a respectable stat line - 14 points, seven assists and four steals. The usually reliable David Bluthenthal shot poorly from the floor, a rarity for a player who throughout his career has been one of the team's more steady hands.
The defending champs' Achilles heel proved to be their perimeter defense, as Gilboa Galil converted on a number of critical three-pointers.
Katash's team showed mental fortitude throughout the game by refusing to wilt under the intense pressure of playing Israel's toughest team in their raucous home arena.
In contrast, Maccabi seemed to panic after Galil closed the gap to start the second half. The lack of a true floor leader capable of lifting the team's rudderless offense proved devastating.
Yet Maccabi did manage to mount a comeback late, thanks to a huge three-pointer from Anderson as well as unforced errors by Pargo and Guny Izraeli. Gilboa's porous free-throw shooting also opened the door for the Men in Yellow to reclaim their throne.
The victory proved doubly sweet for Katash, the coach who resigned from Maccabi in January 2008. Last night, he lifted the championship trophy on his former team's home court and in full view of the club's management.