The stage is set for this year’s Red Auerbach Championship Trophy title game and emotions are at a fever pitch, after both semifinal games saw buzzer-beater finishes.
Top-seeded Ellkay defeated the Nesharim in exciting fashion in the Tier 1 group. The game was a seesaw with no team able to pull away, as the lead seemed to change hands every minute. With under a minute left, Nesharim was able to put together back-to-back baskets to take a 3-point lead.
Things looked desperate for Ellkay when the Nesharim came up with a loose ball. They looked even more dire when, looking to foul or get a steal, Ellkay let the Nesharim find the open man for a fast break and the potential dagger in their title aspirations.
However, after defending the fast break with little more than a prayer, Ellkay’s Tyler Hod raced up the court and got the ball to captain Dani Katz, who was in heavy traffic at the 3-point line. The Nesharim defenders, aware of Katz’s sharpshooting skills, fouled hard in an effort to prevent any shot but Katz somehow got the ball airborne and hit the three with one second remaining, to the cheers of dozens of fans.
With the raucous crowd in disbelief, Katz went to the line to try to end the game in regulation but he could not convert and the game went into overtime.
The overtime was just as close, with Ellkay taking a 4-point lead, and Nesharim fighting back to tie with 5 seconds left. But Ellkay’s Daniel Tzion used a beautiful crossover and hit a floater just as time expired to secure the 46-44 victory.
The next semifinal game pitted the ever-dangerous Tzionim against newcomers Old Spice. The game was tight from the beginning, with Tzionim making a small run at the end of the first half to open up a 9-point lead behind Shua Zakitinsky’s shooting.
Old Spice switched to a zone defense that proved effective, eventually taking a lead on a 3-pointer by Sander Eizen. But the Tzionim weren’t done and tied the game with less than a minute left.
A jump shot off a screen at the top of the key by Dovid Oratz gave Old Spice a 2-point lead with 10 seconds left. With two fouls to give, Old Spice tried to burn the clock but mistakenly fouled on a shot attempt, sending marksman Elisha Edelman to the line with one second left.
After Edelman tied the game Old Spice used its final timeout to design a play from half-court. Using a double screen, Oratz caught the inbound pass while heading deep into the corner and quickly flung the ball one-handed toward the basket. As the whistle sounded, the ball kissed the backboard and dropped in, to give Old Spice the 47-44 win in regulation.
Old Spice will face the undefeated Ellkay in the championship Saturday night, with tipoff scheduled for 10 P.M. at Jerusalem’s Denmark Gym.
In Tier 2, the top-seeded Vince’s Peanuts played Vita Healthcare Group (No. 5), and it was a close game the whole way. Vita Healthcare came out strong and had the lead early in the game, but great unselfish play from captain Mordy Sheinbein brought Vince’s Peanuts back in the game, with a 2-point lead at halftime.
The second half saw Vince’s Peanuts playing lock-down defense and it was able to secure a 53-49 victory, to advance to the Tier 2 championship.
The other Tier 2 semifinal game showcased the Lobos (No. 3) and Let’s Dance (No. 7). The Lobos came out aggressive and stayed in control for most of the game. Let’s Dance put together a valiant run toward the end and came within a deuce, but the Lobos converted on clutch free throws and held off the challenge for a 44-38 final tally and a ticket to the Tier 2 championship, where they will face Vince’s Peanuts.