Hapoel Jerusalem brought a lot more passion to its home court against Maccabi Tel Aviv last night, but the result was the same: a 74-68 loss that leaves the hosts down 2-0 to the favorites in their playoff semifinal series.
The best-of-five is now virtually over, with the venue switching to Nokia Arena on Monday, when Maccabi is expected to sweep away Jerusalem. Hapoel will be left to contemplate a disappointing season.
Hapoel’s saving grace is that it never let Maccabi pull away as it did in the opener when it beat Jerusalem by 18 points. Even in the final minute, Hapoel pulled back to within six points.
Maccabi held a slight advantage in every offensive category but not by a huge margin. Tel Aviv also showed more discipline on defense, an issue that has plagued Jerusalem throughout the season.
Despite Jerusalem’s efforts, which bore fruit in a 10-2 run at the beginning of the second quarter to cut Maccabi’s lead to just one at 28-27, the final result was rarely in doubt. Maccabi dominated the first quarter and rebuffed Hapoel’s second-period run to establish an eight-point halftime lead.
The peak of tension came midway through the contest when Hapoel’s Lior Lipshits felt he got hacked by Maccabi’s Shawn James. Lipshits immediately got up and started shouting in the face of James before the two were separated from each other.
The fortunes of those two players tell the tale: Lipshits fouled out midway through the fourth quarter with just three points, while James finished with a double double − 13 points and 10 rebounds − to go with three assists. James also managed to tick off a frustrated Samardo Samuels toward the end of the game, though the Maccabi player remained calm enough to cool off his opponent with a rub on the head as they walked down court. Samuels was the only truly effective player for the hosts, scoring a game-leading 20 points.
Courtney Fells, who started the season with a series of promising performances, was on the bench practically in tears during the closing three minutes. He had a horrendous outing with two points against two turnovers in less than 15 minutes on the floor.