Raanana Hertzelia came storming back into this series with a crushing 95 – 69 win to force a game 4, and of course makes this series wide open. Three players scored over 20 for Raanana Hertzelia who managed just 67.5 points per game in the first two games, and they never trailed. "This is like the NCAA Tournament, you lose you go home". Neda Djuric sure has a great attitude, and her team has no intention of going home any time soon.
Raanana Hertzelia 95 – Maccabi Ramat Hen 69
Raanana Hertzelia proved that their survival instinct is a lot stronger than Ramat Hen's killer instinct, especially since the expression 'killer instinct' fits Raanana Hertzelia a lot more than Ramat Hen tonight. They led for 40 minutes, 46 – 35 at the half and by as much as 35 in the 4th, and convincingly forced a 4th game. Ramat Hen on the other end can begin worrying about how Armintie Price's knee is no where near 100%, and about how Raanana Hertzelia hasn't looked this good in months.
Raanana Hertzelia knew their backs are against the wall and raced out to a lead from the jump, 11 – 3 in two minutes, timeout Ramat Hen. It didn’t help too much since Shiki Falah's team simply exploded tonight, and on the other end Ramat Hen had no answers. They were down just 18 – 20 ten minutes in, but Raanana Hertzelia re-built the lead quickly and never had a let down. Raanana Hertzelia's zone, which we barely saw in the series till now, gave Ramat Hen trouble but their biggest problem was the fact Arminitie Price didn't play tonight. Even though she has 15 minutes in the boxscore, it's obvious the pain in her left knee is limiting her big time. If she doesn't get back to her old self by Monday, it's tough to see Ramat Hen making it out of this series.
"We talked a lot about setting good screens, about freeing up guards for shots, and I also think the few minutes we played zone defense helped us a lot", said Chen Nusel who hit 4 threes at the end of the 3rd and start of the 4th quarter to set the biggest lead, 85 – 50. "We gained a lot of confidence in the first few minutes, and momentum is a big thing in sports. We found our rhythm and that's what made the difference. But that's it, it's over, and the way we see it there's one more game. We got a big hit in the first two games because it was very frustrating that we worked so hard all year and still couldn't play like we should've. So we're not allowing ourselves to be happy yet", Nusel summed up. She had 14 points and was one of five players in double figures, along with Katia Levisky, Abiola Wabara, Mistie Williams and Tanisha Wright.
Shiki Falah also spoke of the offense as the reason his team won. "We didn’t do much differently, we played our offense, which was something we couldn't do in the first two games. I think we scored today more than those games put together", he said. "What matters now is getting the players ready for Monday. It'll be mental, you have to understand this win means nothing if we don’t continue this on Monday, and I'm sure Ramat Hen will come in more focused". So is the zone defense a change of trend? Definitely not an easy question to answer on the record. "We finished the season first and we had a system. We did work on our zone but we believed in the way that brought us here. The zone didn’t win the game today, we were very good in a man to man defense too. What won the game was that we got back to playing our offense".
And what does all this mean about the next game? "Nothing, absolutely nothing", said Neda Djuric. "The next game starts from 0-0. Sure we feel better, but if you lose on Monday then this 30 points win means nothing. So honestly, we're just gonna come out like we didn’t even play today and yet again try to go back to basics, keep it simple", she said. On the losing side, it's the same answer as always. "It's a new game, anything can happen. Whoever comes out more focused will win", said Adan Inbar. "It doesn't matter", said Edwina Brown about the spread. "It'd hurt more if we lost by one".
Raanana Hertzelia started out like someone had shot them out of a cannon, led by Abiola Wabara, and went up 16 – 5 in four minutes. Mustafina came in for Brown who got hit in the face and immediately nailed a three and Shiri Sharon added a fast break layup to spark and 9 – 0 run that helped narrow the local lead to a misleading 18 – 20 after 1. In the 2nd quarter Raanana Hertzelia regained control and held Ramat Hen to one field goal in 5:30 minutes. They dominated the offensive boards and went inside to Williams while Ramat Hen put up threes agains the zone, 33 – 26. By halftime it was Wright's turn to lead the way and she scored on some sweet drives to make it 46 – 33. At the half it was a 46 – 35 margin.
The halftime boxscore reflected what had happened pretty well, as Raanana Hertzelia was on fire with 69.6% from inside the arc and a 23 – 13 edge on the boards, while in addition to those troubles Ramat Hen went 4 for 12 from the free throw line. The final boxscore was pretty similar. The fact that Price spent the warm up between halves looking like she's learning how to use her left knee again and not like the league's most athletic player also didn’t add to Ramat Hen's chances of stopping Raanana Hertzelia's momentum.
Raanana Hertzelia started out in a zone and Ramat Hen kept struggling, and on the other end the ball went inside to Williams who took advantage of how careful McWilliams was of picking up her 4th foul. Ramat Hen couldn't get anything going except for Shtain who had a three and a layup while the locals played well in transition and looked very confident, 63 – 45 six minutes in. Adan Inbar called a late time out and tried to wake his team up, but then came Chen Nusel who buried three straight threes to officially wipe out and glimmer of hope for Ramat Hen, if it even existed, 76 – 48 after three. The 4th quarter was for the record of course.
"You asked me last game where our offense went right?", said a smiling Neda Djuric after the game. "We looked at some film from the beginning of the season and just decided to go back to basics and do what made us successful. We just ran, we did everything without hesitation and that's what made us better today", said the point guard. "Defensively we were planning on switching a little bit but the zone worked out well so we stayed in it longer. But you know I don’t think it's important what kind of defense we play, it's important how we play. Whether it's man to man or zone, if we come out with energy and we're there to help each other, then I don’t think it's important which defense we're in".
So what happened to Ramat Hen? "We didn't show up to play", said Adan Inbar what was extremely obvious to everyone in attendance. "Today the focus should be on Raanana Hertzelia, they deserved this win and in a series the road you take is less important. It's a shame it ended up like this today, I called a timeout after one minute because I sensed what was going to happen, but some things are stronger than us coaches".
"I think the only difference was that they came out like it was do or die, and they were hitting", said Edwina Brown. "I can't say we were relaxed cause we knew we just needed one game to close it out. We mentally prepared, we had hours of video, we're doing the same thing between games. I don’t know if mentally or physically, they just had their night and they deserved to win".
For Raanana Hertzelia:
Mistie Williams 23 pts, 5 rebs
Tanisha Wright 21 pts, 8 rebs, 8 ast
Abiola Wabara 21 pts, 6 rebs
Chen Nusel 14 pts (4/4 threes)
Katia Levisky 12 pts
Neda Djuric 2 pts, 5 ast
Yael Aharonov 2 pts
For Ramat Hen:
Shiri Sharon 13 pts, 5 ast
Chen Shtain 13 pts
Sharon Zeevi 12 pts
Taj McWilliams & Lena Mustafina 11 pts each
Edwina Brown 8 pts, 6 rebs, 4 ast
Livnat Alon 1 pt
Near triple double for Wright