Hapoel Jerusalem got off to a slow start yesterday against Ironi Nahariya, but then caught fire and held off one final blitz to prevail 93-92 and maintain sole possession of first place.
With nine seconds remaining in the game and trailing by a point, Hapoel's Yuval Naimi missed a three-pointer, but Nahariya mishandled the rebound. Moran Roth came up with the ball and dished it back to Naimi, who redeemed himself with the winning basket.
The game didn't figure to be a nailbiter by the way the momentum swung, as the teams traded double-digit leads.
Nahariya went up 33-19 early in the second quarter when Jerusalem went on a 21-8 run to pull within a point. Nahariya shook off Jerusalem momentarily, reeling off four straight points, but the hosts closed out the half 12-2 run to go into the locker room ahead 52-47.
In the third quarter, Jerusalem extended its lead to 11 points, its largest of the game, at 68-57. However, Nahariya continued to hang around, keeping Jerusalem's lead in single digits for the remainder of the game.
A couple of sloppy turnovers by Jerusalem, which Tony Washam and Raviv Limonad converted into easy baskets, allowed Nahariya to pull back to within a point at 86-85 with just three minutes left. Ron Lewin than hit a three-pointer to put Nahariya ahead by two. Timmy Bowers answered with a layup to tie it at 88.
After exchanging a couple of baskets, Jerusalem's Yuval Naimi missed the front end of a pair of free throws - leaving Jerusalem ahead 91-90 with 21.1 seconds. On the next possession, Moran Roth fouled Nahariya's Yogev Ohayon to deny the visitors a chance for the last shot. Ohayon choked on both free throws, but Aaron McGhee rebounded off the second miss and stuck it back in to make it 92-91 Nahariya.
Had it not been for Naimi's last second redemption, McGhee would have been the hero.
Jerusalem's lead remains one game over Maccabi Tel Aviv, which cruised to a 102-56 victory over Ironi Ramat Gan. Ramat Gan missed its first nine shots from the field and did not hit a basket until the four-minute mark of the first period, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
Lior Eliyahu led Maccabi with a double-double - 19 points and 10 rebounds.
Two of the other league games were also close and ended in similar fashion - with the underdog team ahead at the end of the fourth quarter, fouling the team that was trailing to deny it a chance to get off a three-point shot.
Givat Shmuel upset Holon 89-85, triggered by Roye Berkowitz's trifecta with the game knotted at 79 apiece. The visitors fouled Holon down the stretch, forcing the heavy favorites to convert all its points and never get a chance to tie it.
Ironi Rishon Letzion finished off Bnei Hasharon 92-90 with the same last-minute behavior.
Rishon had actually built a 15-point lead in the first quarter and still led by eight going into the fourth quarter, but once Bnei Hasharon pulled within three points in the closing minute, Rishon resorted to fouls to preserve its lead. In a last gasp attempt, Meir Tapiro missed his free throw on purpose with four seconds left, but Bnei Hasharon was unable to convert the rebound.
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