Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Barak Netanya 79-68 in the fifth game of their quarterfinal playoff series last night to book a semifinal series against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Earlier, Hapoel Eilat defeated Maccabi Rishon Letzion 91-80 in the fifth and deciding game of their quarterfinal series.
Jerusalem had won the first two games of this series with relative ease, but Netanya proved that it is a team with character, fighting back for two gritty victories to set up last night’s decider.
At 39-39 at half time, it looked like either team could win, but Danny Franko’s charges failed to register a single point in five minutes as the third quarter began, and never managed to pull back the 13-point deficit that had opened in the meantime.
Netanya started strongly and led 23-19 at the end of the first quarter, but the visitors gnawed away at the lead in the second quarter, which ended in parity at 39-39.
Then came that terrible five-minute spell for the hosts, from which they never really recovered, and Jerusalem led 62-47 by the end of the period. The home fans urged their team on, and Netanya managed to narrow the gap to eight points with five minutes left on the clock before finally running out of steam.
“We had a chance to produce an earthquake, but missed out in the end,” Netanya coach Danny Franko said after the game. “I’m disappointed, but also proud of my players. It hurts, because we were so close.”
Jerusalem coach Sharon Drucker looked visibly relieved. “Our players deserve a lot of praise for the way they came out of the locker room at half time like animals eager for their prey,” he said. “I am so happy that Jerusalem is again one of the top teams in the country. Maccabi Tel Aviv will have the home advantage [in the semifinal series], but I don’t think you’ll see an inferior team playing against them. We’ll do the best we can.”
Jerusalem had five players with double figures, which shows the depth of Drucker’s roster. Josh Duncan was the game’s outstanding player with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Maccabi Rishon runs out of steam
The Eilat-Rishon Letzion game was finely balanced until the final quarter, when Oded Katash’s charges ran away with the game as the visitors visibly tired.
Eilat led for much of the game by a small margin, but every attempt to open up a lead of more than five points was curtailed by a fight-back from the orange-clad visitors.
Rishon started well and took an early 7-2 lead, but was only one point ahead at 19-18 by the end of the first quarter. But the home team took control of the second quarter, with Eli Holman leading the way to a 40-35 lead at half time.
By the end of an evenly balanced third quarter, the score was 62-57. But two quick three-pointers in succession by Tony Younger gave Eilat a 13-point lead from which Roni Bussani’s players could not recover.
As the game wound down and victory looked assured, Katash allowed some of his bench players onto the court as the home fans vociferously sang the team’s praises.
Eli Holman was Eilat’s top scorer with 20 points, followed by Larry O’Bannon with 15, Scotty Hopson with 14, and Younger with 11.
Jamaican forward Adrian Uter notched up 25 points for Rishon Letzion, with Julian Wright adding 17.
Eilat will meet Maccabi Haifa in the semifinal series, with the northern team enjoying home advantage in the first game