Third place Maccabi Hunter Haifa (19-14) are set to begin the best-of-five quarterfinal series against sixth place Maccabi Rishon Lezion (16-17) tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:35 p.m. at RK Arena. It will be the first time the teams have faced one another in the playoffs.
Last season, the Greens lost 3-2 to Hapoel Eilat in a dramatic series, while Rishon managed to beat Holon in the quarters, but eventually lost to Hapoel Jerusalem in the semifinal series.
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In the last league game at Hapoel Tel Aviv, the Greens already knew they had secured third place. Haifa started well against Hapoel with a buzzer-beater by Gregory Vargas, which put them up 4 points at halftime. In the second half, however, the Reds took the lead and won 90-75. The U-21 National Team players, Tal Aviram and Daniel Koperberg, played 4 minutes each and registered their first points in the Israeli Super League.
“We are coming ready to the playoffs and we want to get started the series against Rishon,” Vargas said. “They are a good team, but we intend to show them why we finished the season in third place.”
At the end of the regular season, Vargas is leading the team in a few statistical categories; in points (13.9), assists (6.4 – third in the league), steals (2.4 – third in the league) and minutes (34.7). The Greens finished as the best defensive team in the league, allowing just 75.2 points on average and only 70.9 points in their home gams. Besides Vargas, who is third in the league in steals, DiBartolomeo, Rougeau and Colman are also top 15 in the league.
Rishon and Maccabi Hunter Haifa faced each other 3 times this season, with the Oranges winning twice — in game 10 at their gym, 83-73 and in the 21st game at RK Arena, 73-67. The last game between them ended with a sweet Green 82-78 road victory. The play of the game came early, when Gregory Vargas hit a buzzer-beater beyond the half-court mark.
In the last game of the regular season, Maccabi Rishon traveled to Ashkelon to play against Kiryat Gat, as they looked for a victory in order to avoid a quarterfinal series against Maccabi Tel Aviv. Kiryat Gat heard the news from Nes Ziona and knew they will play another season in the league, but they showed a great fight and almost won the game. Rishon woke up, mostly because of Mark Lyons (24 points and 6-of-16 from 3-point range) as they won 85-82 in overtime.
Four players averaged double figures points for Arik Shivek’s team and above all is Darryl Monroe with 17.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists per night. Mark Lyons is contributing 16.2 points and 5.1 assists in a game and Rishon’s top Israeli Shawn Dawson finished a great regular season with 15.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists and the athletic Chris Wright is adding 12.3 points and 5.0 rebounds.