Guy Pnini hit a three-pointer with 16.9 seconds left, followed by two clutch free throws with 7.6 ticks remaining, to seal a dramatic comeback by Maccabi Tel Aviv. With their dramatic 71-69 victory, the defending champs eliminated Bnei Hasharon and booked their spot in the Super League semifinals.
Bnei Hasharon, which at one point led by as many as 14 points, was unable to convert crucial free throws down the stretch, allowing Maccabi to maintain a razor-thin margin for most of the fourth quarter.
Even as Maccabi players fouled out, Bnei Hasharon kept missing from the charity stripe, while Maccabi hit them all. Alan Anderson, who gave Maccabi its first lead since the opening period, with two free throws at the 9:13 mark, committed his fifth foul with 6:18 remaining. David Bluthenthal fouled out with 1:43 to go and Maccabi up 66-64. In the latter instance, Sam Clancy missed both his shots.
Bnei Hasharon showed great composure until its late-game collapse. The game stayed tight through the end of the first quarter, with Bnei Hasharon leading 23-21.
Little did Maccabi realize when it scored its final basket of the opening period, with two minutes to go, that it was about to embark on a nine-minute drought from the field. As Maccabi's hand went cold, coach Dan Shamir had his players concede the perimeter and protect the paint.
The strategy paid off. Maccabi shot just 1-for-10 from beyond the arc, and while it committed few turnovers, the team missed a dozen straight shots and was denied second-chance points. Shawn James controlled the boards, claiming a double-double in the first half with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
It wasn't until the 2:58 mark that D'Or Fischer ended Maccabi's skid with a basket that made the score 34-24 Bnei Hasharon. The visitors responded immediately, dousing any hopes of a quick comeback and taking a 46-37 margin into the locker room.
The frustration of Maccabi and its fans was manifested in the middle of the third quarter, when Bluthenthal drew a defensive foul and then gestured at the referee, who slapped him with a technical. That play fired up the team, which suddenly became hot behind the arc. Anderson, who had been under-utilized until that point, dropped a trifecta around the three-minute mark. Bnei Hasharon committed an offensive foul, and Anderson almost got into a fight with his opponents.
Anderson hit another three with 2:34 to cut the lead to three points. Bnei Hasharon committed its third straight foul, and Derek Sharp hit a fast-break three-pointer from the right side.
Desperate to answer Maccabi, Ron Steele responded with a three of his own with 1:41 to go, but the Maccabi crowd was fired up by this point.
Maccabi showed real hustle in the final minute. It grabbed two offensive boards and reset the shot clock just as it was about to expire. Doron Perkins cooly hit an NBA-three with one second left, cutting Bnei Hasharon's lead to 52-51 and setting up the dramatic fourth quarter.
Anderson was the key player, scoring 15 of his 16 points in the second half, but Pnini's final-minute performance was the back-breaker, as his trey put Tel Aviv up by five points with 16.9 ticks left.
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