The Greens clinch the eighth seed in the playoffs with a 95-79 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv
It took all 33 regular season games to determine Maccabi Hunter Haifa’s fate — whether they were in or out of the playoffs. The Greens exploded in the second half to blow the game open at Romema to secure the 8th seed in the quarterfinals against first place Hapoel Holon.
The Greens’ big man Kevinn Pinkney starred with 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes and Gregory Vargas poured in 19 points and 12 dimes for his fourth double-double in the decisive victory. Amit Simhon posted 14 points and 6 boards, captain Oz Blayzer added 13 points, and Willy Workman chipped in 11 points, 4 rebounds and 4 steals off the bench. Haifa distributed the ball well, dishing out 25 assists on the evening.
Hapoel Tel Aviv was paced by Adrian Banks who dropped 15 points, followed by Mark Lyons and Tomer Ginat who each scored 13 points apiece in the loss.
“We never feared the runs of our opponents this season since we knew we would have our run as well,” said captain Oz Blayzer. “I don’t care that I didn’t start well because I knew my teammates would pick me up and get me into business. I am very glad for this win and that we are in the playoffs.”
Hapoel started off hot with a 5-0 run with a bucket by Lyons and a three-pointer by Alando Tucker, but Pinkney got Haifa going with four straight points. Ginat increased Hapoel’s lead to three, but Orlando Mendez-Valdez tied the game with a 3-pointer. Simhon briefly gave the Greens a lead with a trey as the two teams traded leads until the end of the frame as Banks knocked down a triple to give Hapoel a 25-19 edge at the end of the first frame.
Ginat and Brendan Dawson opened an 11 point lead for Hapoel in the second quarter with a 5-0 run by the Reds, but the Greens kept their composure as they reeled off a 14-0 run spurred by Vargas and Willy Workman. Vargas gave Haifa a 5 point lead after converting on a three-point play, but Hapoel fought back to tighten the score. Pinkney helped give Haifa give a 46-42 lead going into the break.
Pinkney and Blayzer pushed Haifa’s lead to six points, but Hapoel trimmed it back down to two after a Matan Naor bucket. Pinkney, Blayzer, Vargas and a 3-pointer by Simhon capped a 12-0 burst to go up 62-48 over Hapoel. Lyons broke up Hapoel’s offensive drought with a bucket, however, the Greens ensued on another flurry with a 10-0 run to open up a 22 point lead, 72-50. The Reds whittled the score down with a 9-0 run, but a Blayzer bucket and a buzzer-beater by DiBartolomeo kept Haifa up 17 points, 76-59, at the end of the third quarter.
The Greens cruised in the fourth quarter as 3-pointers by Blayzer and Dibartolomeo kept Haifa sitting comfortably with a 20+ point lead. As the clock clicked down, Haifa emptied their bench as the crowd roared knowing the Greens had guaranteed their spot in the playoffs — the team’s fifth straight year of making the playoffs.
Haifa will now have to come up with a game plan to upset first place Hapoel Holon — a team that Haifa was 0-3 on the season.
“We need to be better defensively since we were not good on the defensive side against Holon this season,” said head coach Offer Rahimi. “We will have to come aggressive and execute well in order to win games in the series.”