Maccabi Hunter Haifa (19-13) completed its mission of locking in the third seed and home court advantage with a 71-58 home win over Eilat last Sunday. The Greens will have to wait until after the final regular season game against Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. at Shlomo Arena, before knowing who their opponent will be in the quarterfinals playoff series, which begins Thursday, May 19 at RK Arena.
Maccabi understood that a victory over Eilat would mean that the final regular season game against Hapoel Tel Aviv would allow their soldiers to rest prior to the playoffs. Despite the game having no impact towards the playoffs, it still does have significance regarding the history books. A Green victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv would mark their 20th win of the regular season, making Haifa only the eighth club in the Israeli Super League to achieve this feat — joining the company of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Gvat/Yagur, Hapoel Galil Elion, Hapoel Holon and Hapoel Ramat Gan.
With their famous Iron Defense, Maccabi held Eilat to 58 points to earn their 19th win of the season — setting a new franchise record in regular season victories. It was the third time this season that the Greens’ defense held a team under 60 points — more than any other team in the league — all of them at home (Nes Ziona – 57 points, Maccabi Tel Aviv – 56 points and Eilat). The leading scorer in the win over Eilat was Gregory Vargas, who registered 17 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. John DiBartolomeo added 12 points and 5 steals in the victory.
“The game against Hapoel Tel Aviv is very important for us. Playing on the road against them is a great test right before the postseason because it is home to one of toughest environments and we expect a game of playoff level intensity,” DiBartolomeo said.”We are happy we have secured third place but it’s important we continue to improve so we are playing our best basketball heading into the playoffs.”
Turns out the Greens guards can grab rebounds with the best of them. Over the last two games, the guards have led the team in rebounding. Against Kiryat Gat, John DiBartolomeo pulled down 5 boards, and against Eilat, Vargas and Colman registered 5 rebounds each. However, the Green centers, Chubrevich and Buckner, combined for only 5 rebounds in both games.
Just like the Greens, Hapoel Tel Aviv comes into Saturday’s contest without any pressure, as they secured eighth place in the league, and will meet first-place Hapoel Jerusalem in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. Maccabi Hunter Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv have faced each other twice this season, with each side winning at their respective arenas. In the first game, Gregory Vargas (21 points) and Oz Blayzer (15 points), lifted the Greens to a 70-64 win, while in Shlomo Arena, Hapoel’s Israelis Raviv Limonad tallied 18 points and Matan Naor’s 14 points (4-of- 7 from 3-point range) led the Reds to an 85-74 victory.
Since the last time the two teams have met, the Reds’ roster has changed quite a bit. There is no doubt that the most interesting signing in the league this season was former NBA star, Nate Robinson, who is averaging 13.8 points in 29.1 minutes in 8 games for Tel Aviv. However, over the last several weeks, the Reds’ point guard has been involved with several unflattering events, as he was suspended for one game for an altercation with Nes Ziona’s Mitchell Watt and received a hefty fine after a confrontation with Hapoel Holon fans.