The Israel Basketball semifinals are set and ready to rock and roll and the top four teams in the regular season all moved onto the Final Four.
First place Maccabi Tel Aviv begin their best-of-3 semifinal tilt against Hapoel Holon with game one slated for Tuesday night at Yad Eliyahu while second place Hapoel Jerusalem will host Hapoel Tel Aviv for their opening contest on Wednesday evening in the capital city.
Both Maccabi and Jerusalem entered their quarterfinal series against Hapoel Beer Sheva and Bnei Herzliya respectively a bit hungover from being ousted in European play. The yellow-and-blue had fallen to Monaco in a rough and tumble five game series, while the reds saw their continental campaign come to an end when they lost to Bonn in the Basketball Champions League Final following an emotional semifinal victory over Tenerife.
While Oded Katash’s squad were able to get by the southern reds in a 3-0 sweep it was nonetheless a difficult series and one that saw a number of players including regulars Wade Baldwin and Josh Nebo on the shelf with injuries. Aleksandar Dzikic’s team needed an extra game to send off Herzliya 3-1 and it was only in their last game of the series when the bench boss’s charges were really able to make a dent and look somewhat like the Jerusalem of old.
The other two teams who will feature in the semifinals, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Hapoel Holon wrapped up their respective series last week over Nes Ziona and Hapoel Galil Elyon in 3-0 sweeps. This has allowed each squad a chance to rest up and get ready for what will be two incredible clashes that will no doubt leave basketball fans thirsting for more.
Holon, as defending champions can’t be counted out with the likes of veterans Joe Ragland and Chris Johnson anchoring the squad. Ragland raises his game as he always does when the games matter most and starred for Guy Goodes in their series with Hapoel Galil Elyon, while Johnson who has not had his best season, knows what to do when it comes to money time.
In fact, the purples are playing their best basketball of the season right now and have the most depth as they have had all year long with Shawn Dawson slicing and dicing to the hoop, Fred Bourdillion shooting lights out along with CJ Harris plus the late season acquisition of Netanel Artzi make Holon a formidable threat.
“We are peaking right now and we want to continue,” Goodes said. “One thing is for certain is that we will give our all on both ends of the floor as we have a chance to do something special this season.”
Maccabi on the other hand enter the series with a number of question marks. Wade Baldwin has been arguably the club’s best player has been out for a couple of weeks and while Katash has said that he will play, it’s still unclear as to how effective he will be in this series. Without Baldwin, Katash had relied on Darrun Hilliard who had been inconsistent after coming off an early season injury himself.
Josh Nebo looks to be out for the season with a groin issue but the word is still mum on his possible participation as Alex Poythress who also came off of a hand injury that kept him out almost half of the season has been able to fill in admirably.
Yet another concern for the yellow-and-blue is Jarell Martin who did not play in the last game of the Beer Sheva series due to a foot issue. It’s also not clear if the forward will be available or not and that may thrust Suleiman Braimoh into action after not having played in a couple of months.
However, with all of the uncertainty surrounding Maccabi, they still have plenty of quality and depth in Lorenzo Brown, Bonzie Colson, Roman Sorkin and John Dibartolomeo who will all need to step up.
“Holon has been playing well but we have to focus on ourselves and we have to play better,” Colson said ahead of the series opener. “We aren’t satisfied as to how we played in the Beer Sheva series and we have to grow and learn from that. We got to be better and we know that and I think we will be better and they are a totally different team than Beer Sheva. It’s a great challenge but we have to stick to what we do, stick to the game plan and trust each other.”
Over in the second semifinal series that will start the following day, it looks as if Hapoel Tel Aviv is out of their funk after having been eliminated from EuroCup play back in late April. It took them a bit of time to get back into the swing of things but it’s clear that they are out to show the league that they are a threat to take home the title and won’t be an easy opponent for Hapoel Jerusalem.
Tomer Ginat took the bull by the horns and had a spectacular series, Xavier Munford, Jordan McRae and J’Covan Brown all played well but it was Chinanu Onuaku who looked like “The Chief” of old, the one that won the league MVP award last season.
Danny Franco’s team did, however, have some time off that may play a factor in getting them back into the swing of things but the bench boss will do what he needs to in order to help his team climb to the top.
“Sometimes it’s tough to take a break after a good run of games and I won’t rule doing anything out,” Franco explained.
For Jerusalem, head coach Aleksandar Dzikic described their play since the BCL Final perfectly, too many ups and downs and that is exactly as to how the Reds have looked in their series win over Bnei Herzliya.
There were consistently inconsistent in all four games and while the close out game saw them win 86-61, they also blew two 20 point leads before finally wearing out a very short Herzliya squad.
In fact, had it not been for Khadeen Carrington who scored 26 points in just 21 minutes of play, the series perhaps may have headed back to Jerusalem for a decisive game five.
Just last week, Israel National Team coach Ariel Beit Halachmi indicated that they had identified Carrington as a player that they would like to naturalize and have play for the squad this summer in Olympic Pre-Qualifying Tournament.
The blue-and-white bench boss who was in attendance for the game was able to see the guard in action and nodded his head in approval as he cut to the hoop, went from long distance and did everything that the team had lacked especially in crunch time with 16 fourth quarter points to pick up the win.
“It was my mindset and close things out,” Carrington said. “Coach trusted me, my teammates trusted me and in those crucial situations they like to put the ball in my hands and I do what I know what do best, try to score, try to get a bucket. If I can’t get a bucket then I try to find the open guy but I had it going and my teammates and coach did a good job trying to get me the ball.”
Dzikic also praised Carrington for his self-sacrifice for the good of the team and who could be one of the most important players down the stretch of this season, “Khadeen started all of his life and it took me all of about 60 seconds to convince him that for us it’s better if you come from the bench. He said whatever you need. For me that’s the highest level of sacrifice and coach-ability that you can ask for. It’s crucial that he comes from the bench and gives us instant offense. He’s a killer and that’s why we call him killer.”
Just as the ball is about to be tossed up for tip-off, one thing is clear, that both these series will display the Israeli league’s best and will leave hoops fans thirsting for more.