Maccabi Hunter Haifa’s rally in the fourth quarter came up just short as they fell 71-69 to Rishon Lezion in game one of the quarterfinals on Thursday night at RK Arena. Rishon’s Mark Lyons was nearly unstoppable from beyond the arc, tallying 23 points on 5-of-6 from 3-point range. The Greens were paced by a 20 point performance by Will Graves, followed by 10 points and 6 rebounds from Gregory Vargas. Haifa struggled to contain Rishon from three-point land as they shot 44 percent (8-of-18), while Haifa made only 5-of-24 attempts (21%). Haifa’s ball movement also was lacking as they registered 12 assists to Rishon’s 22 assists, which seemed to find the open man time and time again.
“We almost turned the game around, we were one basket short to do it,” Coach Hadar said. “The series just started and we have to come to Rishon on Monday and win. I think that it’s early for me to explain, but we had some minutes that our offense got stuck. We didn’t start good on defense and it got better as the game moved on. In the third quarter we were struggling on offense and they took a 12 point lead. At the end we came back and we have to respect the players for the effort.”
The Greens struggled to get into an offensive rhythm as Rishon raced out to a 9-3 advantage. Rishon’s pick and roll action confused the Haifa defense as Lyons got off to a hot start, scoring 10 points in the first frame. Graves brought Haifa back into the game with 5 straight points and followed with another jumper to cut the Haifa deficit to 14-10 midway through the quarter. Buckner came off the bench to spark Haifa with 6 points, but the Greens finished the first quarter trailing 22-16 to Rishon.
Lyons continued his blazing start with a trey from the corner to begin the second quarter. However, the Greens responded with a 10-4 run on two free throw attempts from DiBartolomeo, and 3-pointers by Colman and DiBartolomeo to bring Haifa within 29-26 in favor of Rishon. After Vargas scored his first points converting on a 3-point play, the Greens rallied to claim their first lead of the game as DiBartolomeo sank two from the charity stripe to put Haifa up 32-31 at the 4:27 mark of the quarter. Haifa continued to score from the line as Rougeau scored four straight from the line to put Haifa up 36-31. Former Haifa captain Avi Ben Chimol scored five straight points on a 3-pointer and drive to the rim to knot the game and Kevin Palmer nailed one from downtown to put Rihson back up 39-36 at the half.
In the third quarter, Rishon controlled the tempo as Lyons converted on a steal and a fastbreak layup. Rishon’s Tony Yonger netted a 3-pointer and Monroe followed with jumper to give Rishon a double digit advantage 50-40 midway through the period. DiBartolomeo snapped Haifa’s drought with a hustle basket after an offensive rebound, and Chubrevich posted up for a bucket to bring Haifa within 50-44. Vargas splashed in a clutch 3-pointer with 1:15 remaining in the quarter to bring Haifa within five points, but Rishon scored the last bucket as Haifa trailed 54-47.
Haifa’s Rougeau and Graves scored the first three points of the fourth quarter at the line to get within 54-50. Rishon went on a 8-0 spurt which put Haifa in a daunting situation trailing 62-50 with just over five minutes. Haifa answered with their own 14-2 burst, started by a Chubrevich jumper. A Hickerson bucket drew a foul, and Vargas grabbed the offensive board off a missed free throw, making the putback to bring Haifa within 6 points. Will Graves followed with a highlight reel dunk, converting on the extra points. He wasn’t finished, nailing a 3-pointer and Vargas knotted the game at 64-64 at the line with 2:39 left in regulation. Lyons burned Haifa twice with two dagger 3-pointers to put Rishon back up 70-66 with 1:27 on the clock. With just over 30 seconds left in the game, Colman drove to the rim for a layup, drawing the foul, but couldn’t convert on the extra point, as he brought Haifa within 70-68. Rishon turned the ball over on the next possession, which allowed Buckner a chance to tie the game at the other end of the floor after drawing a foul with 21.9. He missed the first attempt, but made the second to bring Haif within 70-69. Lyons was fouled with 17.9 seconds left missing the first attempt, but made the second. Haifa had one last chance with Colman missing a jumper that would have tied the game.
The Greens will face Rishon on Monday on the road in what appears to be a must win situation.