Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Ironi Kiryat Ata in game one of their league semifinal series

Jun 5, 2024 | Holyland Hoops | 0 comments

Hapoel Tel Aviv will host Ironi Kiryat Ata at The Drive In on Thursday (21:00 IDT / 14:00 EDT) in the first of their best of three games semifinal series.

Both teams got through to the semifinals by sweeping their opponents 3-0 in the quarterfinal series: the Reds defeated Hapoel Haifa 97-66, 100-91 in overtime and 83-65; Kiryat Ata defeated Ramat Gan in what was the most-exciting of all the quarterfinal series 95-94, 94-84 in overtime and 74-72 in overtime.

While on paper Hapoel will go into the series as favorites, given that they hold homecourt advantage and finished second after the regular season as opposed to the sixth-placed Kiryat Ata, nothing is guaranteed and this promises to be an exciting series. Hapoel had the better of Kiryat Ata during the season with two wins to one – with a 97-89 away win in January and a 98-77 win just a couple of weeks ago – but Kiryat Ata did get the better of Hapoel at The Drive In back in December with a 91-87 victory.

“I guess everybody knows that Kiryat Ata is a very dangerous team,” Hapoel coach Stefanos Dedas said in the press conference in the leadup to the series. “Obviously, they proved this all season. They’re a well-coached team and we must not ignore the big task here. They won already at the Drive In earlier this season. So for sure, we need to be ready for the way they play – a lot of offensive rebounds, a lot of pressing, trying to steal the ball. We must take their strength and turn it into a disadvantage for them – I will try to prepare my players tactically and mentally to play our game to match their energy and to control the main strength defensively and offensively.”

“We’re very excited, it’s clear to us that it’ll be tough series,” Hapoel star Tomer Ginat said. “We saw their aggressiveness in the series against Ramat Gan and the way that they come to games. We need to play very strongly, come from the first second and play the way that we know how to play, guard on defense and closeout rebounds. If we do that then we will be ok.”

While they made the league final last season only to lose to Maccabi in a nailbiter deciding game 3, the last time that Hapoel won a league championship was the 1968-69 season. But the pressure doesn’t seem to phase the Reds.

“The players are aware of the importance of the game,” Dedas said. “Just to win through to the final, four wins for a championship. Tomorrow is a very important game. I think with the support of our fans, with our hustle and with our combination of energy and conservation and game plan, I think we have to win this game and I’m sure we’ll win this game.”

“It’s the playoff semifinal, there’s always pressure in the semifinals of the playoffs, but I think that there’s enough experience in this team, both with the coach and the players, in order to know how to do it,” Ginat said. “We know that we’re a good team and we really believe in ourselves and we will come tomorrow to open the series as required.”

For the visitors, Moshe Halickman had an exclusive interview with star James Batemon after Kiriyat Ata’s game three win over Ramat Gan.

“Honestly, I’ve tried to get my mind off of it because I wanted to focus on closing out this series, but all I can think about was playing in The Drive In arena with the Hapoel Tel Aviv crowd in the playoffs,” Batemon said. “It’s going to be amazing. This season has been wonderful. I’m just glad I’m able to be here to do it.”

Game two of the series is scheduled to take place in Kiryat Ata on Saturday night (21:30 IDT / 14:30 EDT). If needed, game three will take place in Tel Aviv on Monday.

On the other side of the bracket, Maccabi Tel Aviv had a home victory over Hapoel Jerusalem 89-82 in game one of their semifinal series on Wednesday [Josh – link in your story after you’ve posted?]. Game two will be held in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon (15:30 IDT / 8:30 EDT) and if needed, game three will be back at Yad Eliyahu on Sunday.

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