Maccabi Hunter Haifa, the Cinderella team of this year’s playoffs, is attempting to add a second banner to their arena as they face Hapoel Jerusalem on Thursday at 21:00 in the Israeli League Final. A moment before the big Final, it’s time to recall what it took for both teams to get here.
The Greens were nearly knocked out of the playoffs before it even began as they found themselves in a must-win situation in their final regular season game. After earning the final spot in the playoffs, Haifa made history by becoming the first eighth seed to upset a number one seed in Winner League history. While historic, Haifa’s victory against Hapoel Holon showed how dominant the Greens could be. In the next round, the Greens were tested with facing perennial powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv at Menora Michtavim Arena in the Final Four. Maccabi was more than up to the task as they led the entire way and showed their opponent to be inferior.
Hapoel Jerusalem has faced similar adversity this postseason, after falling in behind 2-0 in the quarterfinals series against Ironi Naharayia, the Reds faced four consecutive must-win games. Hapoel’s league-best defense and offensive firepower will be the Green’s biggest threat in the Final.
Throughout the playoffs, both sides have shown a tremendous amount of character. On Thursday, one team will be crowned champion — capping an extremely unpredictable 2016-2017 season. Maccabi and Hapoel have met in the playoffs on five occasions with the Greens holding a 4-1 record in their history against the Reds.
Playoff History: Greens vs. Reds
2008-09 season, Semifinals: 98-93 to Maccabi Haifa (Final Four)
2013-14, semifinals: 3-1 to Maccabi Haifa (best-of-five games)
Maccabi and Hapoel have met twice in the semifinals – in both occasions, the Greens had the upper hand. In 2008-09, Maccabi nearly blew a double-digit advantage before securing a victory in overtime. Four seasons later — with a trip to the finals on the line — the two sides met again in the Final Four. After stealing the home-court advantage from Jerusalem, Haifa was able to win the series advance to their most recent Finals in 2013-14.
During the 2016-17 regular season, the faced one another three times in two lopsided battles and one close contest.
Round 8: Hapoel Jerusalem 93, Maccabi Hunter Haifa 71
Maccabi Stats: Simhon (7-16 from the field) 17 points, Graves and Blayzer (0-4 to three) 8 points each.
Round 19: Maccabi Hunter Haifa 86, Hapoel Jerusalem 69
Maccabi Stats: Mendes-Valdez 17 points (5-6 to 3, 4 assists), Blayzer 16 points (6-6 from the line), Simhon 15 (3-7 to 3, 5 turnovers), Graves 13 (5-6 from the line), Vargas 11 (7 rebounds, 6 assists).
Round 32: The Greens are hungry for their Second Plate
Hapoel Jerusalem 69, Maccabi Hunter Haifa 63
Maccabi Stats: Simhon 13 (5-9 from the field, 4 turnovers), DiBartolomeo 11 (3-6 to 3), Pinkney 10 (7 rebounds).
Offer Rahimi: “I do not think that the previous game has any implications on the next game. Hapoel Jerusalem is an experienced and strong team. I hope we can control the pace and the game…I believe in my players, we proved that we can do it. ”
Oz Blayzer: “We surprised many people who came here, but we did not surprise ourselves. We know what we’re worth, we’ll scour the court and we’ll do everything to win, it’s one game and anything can happen.”
1. Both teams have won one championship to date. On Thursday night, the winner will join Hapoel Gilboa / Galil Elyon in third place all-time with two Israeli League championships, under Maccabi Tel Aviv (51) and Hapoel Tel Aviv (5)
2. Maccabi Haifa is the lowest ranked team in league history to make it to a Final after finishing the regular season in eighth place.
3. Hapoel Jerusalem is participating in its third consecutive finals. The only other teams to do so are Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv.
4. Until 2009, Maccabi Haifa never appeared in the playoff finals, since then they have been there four times – the most in that period except for Maccabi Tel Aviv.