By Amy Samin
After a close and difficult battle, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv emerged victorious over Hapoel Tel Aviv, 76-74 and advances to the Israeli Winner Sal League semifinals. Ricky Hickman led all scorers with 20 points, Shawn James added 17 points and Devin Smith contributed 14 points. Lior Eliyahu had an impressive 17 rebounds.
Maccabi's starters were Shawn James, Devin Smith, Ricky Hickman, team captain Lior Eliyahu and Yogev Ohayon. The first two minutes of the game saw a lot of action on defense but no points scored by either team. A three by Hickman at the top of the arc broke the ice after nearly two and a half minutes. Hapoel woke up and began stringing baskets together, taking a 12-9 lead after five and a half minutes. A trey by David Logan from the left corner tied the score, but Hapoel soon reclaimed the lead, and the period ended with the visitors leading 22-18.
The second quarter began with an unsportsmanlike foul by Hapoel that sent James to the foul line. Points by Smith and Hickman made it a two point game, 28-26 after two and a half minutes. Maccabi soon tied the score, but once again Hapoel came back, taking a ten point lead, 38-28 with three minutes left in the half. A pair of free throws by Hickman, followed by a bucket and one by Eliyahu made it 44-38 with eight seconds on the clock. Hapoel failed to score and the teams went into the halftime break with the hosts trailing by six.
It didn't take long for the visitors to recalibrate their lead at ten points, 50-40 four minutes into the third period. Points by James, Hickman and Smith cut the deficit to four, 50-46 halfway through the period. Two straight baskets by James, free throws by Logan and points by Eliyahu completed Maccabi's return to the game as they took a 54-53 lead with two and a half minutes remaining in the period. Hapoel kept things close and even retook the lead, but a buzzer beater from downtown by Guy Pnini made it 58-57 Maccabi.
The game stayed close at the start of the fourth quarter, with the score tying multiple times. A clutch triple by Logan in the left corner and points by Eliyahu, Hickman and James (assist Smith) built up a five point lead for Maccabi, 68-63 with just over three minutes remaining. Hapoel didn't give up, but key defensive rebounds by Eliyahu and free throws by Smith made it 72-67 with just over half a minute on the clock. A foul by Eliyahu allowed Hapoel to come within two with :22 on the clock after three points from the charity stripe. The final seconds seemed to last for minutes as the teams traded fouls, but in the end Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv defeated Hapoel Tel Aviv 76-74 and advances to the Winner Sal League semifinal series.