For the first time in its history, Maccabi Haifa is Israel’s basketball champion.
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The Greens, coached by American Brad Greenberg, beat perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv in a one-game final to take the pennant in the most dramatic manner possible, 86-79.
For many people the writing was on the wall, given Maccabi Tel Aviv’s inconsistency all season, but when the final buzzer sounded and Haifa emerged the winning side, one almost had to rub one’s eyes in disbelief.
The Greens, under the leadership of coach Brad Greenburg − yes, the same Brad Greenburg who was forced to leave the NBA under a cloud after he was accused of recruitment violations − played a tactically perfect game, controlled for much of the game and, even when it seemed that the Yellow steamroller was going to crush them, never lost their cool.
The story of last night’s drama was the final quarter, a master class performance from Gal Mekel and Pat Calathes and the almost complete no-show by Tel Aviv’s star players.
Despite the fact that the first half of the game was a relatively close-run affair, Tel Aviv went into the break with a seemingly comfortable advantage, 42-37.
During the third quarter the Yellows moved even further away from Haifa but, cheered on by a raucous home crowd, the Greens steamed their way back into contention. The final quarter belonged exclusively to Haifa, which, when it really mattered, was far the superior team. If there is one player who won it for Haifa in the final quarter, it was Mekel, who sank some outrageous shots. Tel Aviv simply had no answer.
With all due respect to Haifa’s wonderful achievement, however, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Tel Aviv’s season has been a disaster and its roster has been one of the weakest in recent years.
For the first time as Tel Aviv coach, David Blatt is not ending the season as champion and his position is now surely in doubt.
Ricky Hickman was the only Tel Aviv player who put in a decent evening’s work, racking up 28 points − 18 more than his nearest teammate.
For Haifa, Calathes was top scorer with 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Mekel chipped in with 21 points.
At the final buzzer, Calathes could barely contain himself.
“This is my first-ever championship,” he said, “and it’s hard to put into words how it feels. We set our sights on this all season and we’ve finally done it. We have beaten one of the best teams in Europe. Gal [Mekel] was the leader of the team all season and tonight he was outstanding. But the victory belongs to Brad Greenburg, who is a huge coach.”