Greens drop final regular season game, ready for playoffs

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Maccabi Hunter Haifa dropped their final regular season game 90-75 to Hapoel Tel Aviv on the road on Saturday night. The Greens finished the regular season 19-14, and await to find out who their opponent will be in the quarterfinals — set to begin at RK Arena on Thursday, May 19.

Haifa couldn’t contain a fourth quarter surge by the Reds as they pulled away in what was a competitive back and forth contest. The final score was not an indication of how tight the game was with both teams trading leads throughout three and a half quarters.

Since the game had no impact on the playoff seedings for either team, several bench players from each side had the opportunity to see action on the court. Haifa’s Daniel Koperberg and Tal Aviram scored their first points of the season in the last game of the regular season.

Rene Rougeau paced the Greens with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals as he continued his improved play and seems poised for a strong showing in the playoffs. In a night where Haifa struggled from three-point range (25%), Will Graves was a bright spot, netting 4-of-8 from downtown en rout to 17 points. Oz Blayzer finished with 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in the loss.

Hapoel Tel Aviv was led by Raviv Limonad’s 22 points and 6 assists. Former Haifa center Daniel Aidan tallied 13 points and 6 caroms, while Demitrius Conger notched a double-double on 13 points and 10 rebounds. Former NBA star Nate Robinson added 8 points in 25 minutes.

“We didn’t play well today, and there is no excuse for that,” coach Rami Hadar said. “My feeling is that we felt some sort of brownout, but now we move onto the playoffs, this game is history.”

The Greens’ relentless defense gave Hapoel Tel Aviv fits as Haifa held to two points in the first three and half minutes, racing out to a 9-2 lead with four points from Blayzer. Tel Aviv got themselves going as Limonad heated up to whittle the Greens’ lead to 16-15. Hapoel Tel Aviv claimed a brief lead, but Hickerson gave Haifa the 20-19 edge at the end of the first quarter.

In the second frame, Will Graves caught fire with 8 straight points for Haifa as the Greens extended their lead to 28-20. Hapoel’s Tamir Blatt nailed a triple to begin 10-4 Tel Aviv burst with strong minutes from former Haifa big man Daniel Aidan in the paint to trim Haifa’s lead to 32-30. Chubrevich drained two mid-range jumpers and a Rougeau jumper kept Haifa in the lead at 38-35. Gregory Vargas splashed in a trey before the buzzer to put Haifa on top 41-39 at the half.

Tel Aviv quickly erased Haifa’s lead as they started the second half on 5-0 run to take a 44-41 advantage. DiBartolomeo rimmed in a shot from the corner, and after a steal by Rougeau, Graves netted a triple to give Haifa a 46-44 lead. The teams exchanged leads with a flurry of baskets, but it was Hapoel that finished the third quarter on a 7-2 run to take a 63-59 advantage.

In the final frame, Rougeau tried to pull Haifa back into the game, getting as close as four points, 75-71, after scoring two. However, Hapoel’s players seemed to feed off the crowd as they extended their lead to double digits as they put the game out of reach.