While Sofoklis Schortsanitis was enjoying himself in Athens and Richard Hendrix was distracted by contract negotiations for next year, Shawn James filled the role as the major force on Maccabi Tel Aviv's front line Sunday night as he led his team past Hapoel Jerusalem 89-80 in Malha.
Despite giving up a 17-6 run to Hapoel Jerusalem in the third quarter that put the lead firmly in the hands of the host, Maccabi head coach David Blatt decided to put James back in to start the fourth quarter. The move paid off as James looked confident and sparked Maccabi to a 23-3 domination of the final period. It was not so much his offense as his overall play, pulling down seven rebounds and blocking five shots in addition to scoring nine points.
The fourth quarter against Hapoel was reminiscent of the last six minutes of Game Four in Maccabi's playoff series against Panathinaikos. Blatt gave up on his natural point guard as Yogev Ohayon was having an off night and Theodoros Papaloukas, who has played three games in a row, had not suited up. So, he went with three shooters - Devin Smith, Guy Pnini and David Blu. But what didn't work against the Greeks did wonders against Hapoel Jerusalem, which could not stand up to the pressure defense, the traps and Maccabi's forwards. Smith finished with a game-leading 25 points.
The one bright spot for Hapoel was Yuval Naimy, who continues to do well against Maccabi. He scored 22 points to bring his average to 21.3 points per game against Maccabi.
In the other game with playoff implications Sunday night, Rishon Letzion held on to beat Ashkelon 62-61 and take sole possession of third place, between Gilboa/Galil and Hapoel Jerusalem.
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