Hapoel Holon and Maccabi Haifa Heat will meet in the State Cup finals this week after a pair of tight contests yesterday. The match-up ensures a first-time winner in the State Cup when the teams take on each other on Thursday.
Haifa beat Jerusalem 67-66 in dramatic fashion, as Amit Ben-David found Moshe Mizrahi in the lane, as the final ticks ran down and Haifa was trailing 66-65. Mizrahi broke free for a bank shot in the paint with 2.4 seconds and drew a foul. He missed the free throw, but Jerusalem could only hurl a three-quarter court shot before the Haifa fans started celebrating.
Haifa had established an eight-point lead in the first quarter only to see Jerusalem roar back and grab a two-point halftime advantage.
Holon won the opener in a back-and-forth game that saw 13 lead changes before prevailing 79-76 over Ironi Nahariya. Holon is hoping its sixth trip to the State Cup final will be the charm.
Uri Kukia - who played five seasons in Nahariya but has become one of the symbols of Holon's rejuvenated squad - pulled down six rebounds but more importantly prevented Nahariya big man Aaron McGhee from adding to his first-half total of nine points.
With Kukia controlling the paint, Nahariya found itself down 70-65 with 4:13 remaining. Coach Yaakov Gino ordered his players to take threes. They complied, and two possessions later Nahariya retook the lead at 71-70.
Holon then moved back in front and was still ahead with 18 seconds to go when Nahariya tried to get the ball inside to McGhee. Kukia anticipated the pass, however, and stole the ball to secure the win, though Yogev Ohayon managed to get off a half-court prayer to try and tie the game at the buzzer.
"Nahariya doesn't break," said Holon coach Danny Franco after the game. "We opened the second half with a 10-0 run, but they were still there." Gino attributed the loss to Holon's suffocating zone defense, which "forced us into low shooting percentages from two-point range and to lose too many balls."
Luis Flores of Holon led all scorers with 20 points.
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