Hapoel Holon find themselves just one win away from the top of the Israeli basketball mountain as they look to capture their second ever league championship when they step onto the Toto Arena court in front of over 5,000 of their rabid fans on Thursday night. After Guy Goodes’s squad outlasted Bnei Herzliya 78-71 on the road in what was a true battle of wills on Monday evening, the Purples will attempt to end off one of their most thrilling campaigns on the highest possible note by hoisting the championship plate at home.
However, there is another team on the court that will work their hardest for their head coach Oren Aharoni as they will try to send the best of three final series back to the HaYovel Arena for a decisive game three. However, in order to do that Herzliya will not only have to go into hostile territory to do so, they will also need to hit their shots from downtown which is something that they had struggled with in game one.
While Holon may be in the driver’s seat, Goodes is very well aware that his team will need to be 100% plus focused to get the job done and take their first league title since 2008 and that they can’t let their guard down as they did in game two of their semifinal series against Hapoel Jerusalem. That is the last thing that Goodes who is in search of his own first championship wants to see happen on his home floor.
“We have to be ready and focused for game two at home in order for us to do what we need to do. I told the players in the lockerroom that they should remember what happened against Jerusalem and what went down in that game. As for myself, I’m not going to talk about Cinderella stories and we need one more game to win the title. All of the rest can wait for afterwards.”
There is no way Goodes wants to witness a repeat of that game two versus the Reds in which Holon lost handily by the score of 75-61 to send the series back to the capital city where they were able to pull out a dramatic 80-77 win by the hair of their chinny, chin, chin.
Goodes will want to see his players make big plays in money time just as they have done on more than one occasion this season as Holon faced elimination from the Basketball Champions League more than once. In fact, one player that put in a huge basket with 17 seconds left to open up a 5-point, 76-71 lead was Michale Kyser, one of Goodes’s most colorful characters and one who has risen to the occasion numerous times for his team.
Unfortunately for Kyser, the Holon center played only 14 minutes as he was in foul trouble after picking up his fourth foul in the third quarter. That was also the case for Hayden Dalton who scored a pair of super important triples in the final frame as well as Chris Johnson who eventually fouled out.
But despite being limited due to the foul situation, Kyser was a key contributor both off the court and on it, “I’m doing what I can from the bench and giving my energy on the sideline. I’m being the third coach and doing what we need to do to get the win and that’s what we did. I just had to finish it off as the ball got to me, I put up a floater and it went in. It was tough with the fouls but I just had to be ready and stay positive the entire game.”
Goodes knew how crucial that basket was when Kyser was able to get that ball over an extended Chinanu Onuaku who just picked up the league’s Player of the Season award. He was also aware that a number of his players were able to come up big in the clutch after mounting a fourth quarter comeback in which Holon outscored Herzliya 24-13 over the final ten minutes of play.
“Every team has their players and they are the ones who win games. We made our plays but it’s only 1-0 right now and we don’t want to come back here. Michale Kyser scored a huge basket and he was unfortunately in foul trouble. Hayden Dalton hit a massive 3-pointer which opened up a bit of a gap down the stretch. Rafi Menco began the game well with 13 points, Guy Pnini played well in the minutes he played. Each player contributed in this game and to the win.”
While Goodes and Holon will try to write the end of the story, Aharoni and Herzliya will try and add another chapter to the 21/22 season and extend it to a do or die third game back at home.
But in order to do that they will need to have their shooters step up and not go 3/24 from beyond the arc while relying solely on Onuaku who ended the game with a 18 point and 20 rebound double-double performance. Chris Babb and Quinton Hooker will need to play better while the squad’s team defense needs to pick it up a notch if they want to head back home and if they can’t, the curtain will come down on the campaign.
“They made some big baskets and we didn’t, Aharoni said. “McGee and Ragland scored 23 and 18 points respectively and we did what we needed to do against them but our offense let us down. We didn’t have another player that stepped up but we did a good job playing against their defense. We will have to make adjustments for the next game as we were a bit tight and we need to fix up some things defensively on the pick and roll on Ragland. We have to be better as he scored some big shots.”
While this is Herzliya’s first time ever to reach the league finals, they did capture the Israel State Cup back in February while easily dispatching Holon in the semifinals, so there is no reason to think that Aharoni’s team won’t come back and find a way to send the series to the distance.
However, there still is an experience factor at play with Holon having far more due to their participation in the Basketball Champions League as well as having players who have played integral parts in winning hardware.
“We gained a lot of experience over the season with many Champions League games and that made a difference at the end of this game,” Goodes explained.
Kyser also looked at what Holon experienced this year and how that will play in their favor on Thursday, “We have had many games that went down to the wire this season and we have a great group of guys and a terrific staff. We are battle tested.”
But Herzliya’s Sandy Cohen feels that his team also has plenty of know how when it comes to big games in front of hostile crowds, “This is the third championship that I am playing in and Chris Babb has played as well along with ‘Chief’ Onuaku. I don’t think that this is something new to us as Maccabi who we beat in the semifinals has a lot more fans than Holon as well. We want to put four quarters of basketball together. We have to make the right plays, play hard on defense and take shots when I have them.”
“We got to go out and play our game,” Kyser responded. “We are playing against a different type of team than Jerusalem and everyone counted us out whether it was in the BCL or the domestic league. We are playing Holon basketball and we will be able to make history on Thursday. I’m content with our situation and I am ready for a battle.”