When basketball's regular season ended, we had a lot of expectations about the playoffs. The first set of quarterfinal games whetted our appetite with all four games ending in single-digit victories, two of them on the road.
The second set of matchups, however, ended with four double-digit routs. With three of the four best-of-five series at 2-0, tonight's contests resemble the upper-tier playoffs of soccer's Premier League: They keep playing even though there's nothing to play for. Everyone is waiting for the real series in the upcoming semifinals - Maccabi Tel Aviv versus Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa against Eilat.
With the end of the playoffs in sight, there's a feeling that after years of teams hiring coaches for the long term, most teams will make changes at the top this summer. Maccabi Ashdod has already parted ways with Ofer Berkovich after three years together.
For other teams, the playoffs are a litmus test for the coach. Gilboa's 12-point loss to Maccabi Haifa on Monday pushed Lior Lubin closer out the door. After a season full of hardships, Gilboa needed to win to ensure another home game in the quarterfinal. But it didn't guard at all, and the team let a talented Haifa go to town in the paint and achieve a historic victory in Gan Ner.
Assuming that Maccabi Rishon Letzion's series with Hapoel Eilat is a test for its coach, Roni Bussani, the team's collapse Monday night didn't improve his prospects of surviving another season, to say the least. Oded Katash at Eilat isn't in danger at all, but the game was a test of sorts for him and his team, which had lost the series opener. Jerome Tillman and Eli Holman once again had trouble matching up with Adrian Uter and Julian Wright, but Rishon's sizzling shooting from three-point land, converting 13 of 24 attempts, turned the game into garbage time early.
There has been a trend with coaches this year: The one chosen coach of the month goes on a slide the following month. The same thing happened to the April honoree, Netanya's Danny Franco, though his woes began with the meaningless regular-season finale against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Netanya, which has a better league record than its quarterfinal opponent, Hapoel Jerusalem, has simply stopped playing.
Jerusalem dominated in the paint, forced Netanya to take 19 shots from behind the arc and reached the charity stripe 36 times. Sharon Drucker's team, which just two weeks ago looked like it had fallen apart, suddenly emerges as a team that could challenge Maccabi in the semifinals. Luckily for coach Drucker, the league doesn't select a May coach of the month.
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