|20 May 2009|
Maccabi Haifa's dream run in the Israeli top flight continued on Tuesday when the club shocked Hapoel Jerusalem 98-93 in overtime to reach the Basketball Super League title game.
Haifa, who were newly promoted to the top flight this season following a six-year absence, will now attempt to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv in the championship.
Pini Gershon's team nearly bowed out of the Final Four but edged Shaham Gilboa/Galil 72-70 in the second semi-final at the Nokia Arena.
Israel is buzzing about Haifa, and for good reason.
"We accomplished something huge," Haifa coach Avi Ashkenazi said.
"We wanted to reach the Final Four and we did that. We wanted to advance to the final and we did that. Now we want to win the championship."
The man whose play helped fire Hapoel Holon to the title last year, Malik Dixon, is again making headlines.
He was a late-season signing by Haifa and on Tuesday he came up big with 12 points - eight of them in the last 15 minutes of the game.
Hapoel nearly spoiled the party.
Trailing by 13 at the start of the final quarter, the team coached by Guy Goodes reeled off 21 consecutive points and led 76-68 with just over four minutes to go.
Haifa battled back, though, and a Dixon basket knotted the contest at 80-80 late in regulation to force the extra period.
Once in the overtime, Haifa scored the first five points and stayed on top the rest of the way.
"We should have finished the game when we took an eight-point lead in the fourth period," Goodes said.
"We didn't make the most of our opportunity and our opponents did."
In Maccabi Tel Aviv's win, Israel international Lior Eliyahu had 20 points.
If Maccabi Tel Aviv do not win the title on Thursday, their coach Pini Gershon will be seething.
He criticized the Final Four format over the weekend and argued that a play-off series should determine the champion.
Gershon believes this to be the case, even though some of his greatest accomplishments as a coach have come by winning Final Fours in the FIBA SuproLeague and the Euroleague.