Text size

Hapoel Holon won its first ever State Cup last night 69-68 over the Maccabi Haifa Heat on a buzzer-beating three-pointer from the corner by guard Brian Tolbert.

A crowd of some 10,000 at Tel Aviv's Yad Eliyahu Arena took in the battle between the two Cinderella-story teams which just a few seasons ago would have seemed improbable competitors for the Premier League title.

Last season Holon surprised parquet pundits and fans alike by stealing the league championship from Maccabi Tel Aviv 73-72 at the perennial winner's home court.

Haifa had been out of the top division for the decade before this season, and last night marked its first Cup final appearance in nearly a quarter century.

The two upstarts seemed like a perfectly even match in the first quarter, as Deron Washington led the charge for Holon and Brooks Sales took control for Haifa. Neither team was able to take the upper hand, and the game remained locked at 18 at the end of the first quarter.

Holon's offense faltered in the second period, and Haifa lost no time in exploiting its opponent's weakness for a 9-0 run. A pair of three-pointers from point man Amit Ben David widened the lead further, and Haifa led by nine going into the third.

After the half, ex-Haifa forward Uri Kokia converted a steal into an easy layup. The "heat" in the third quarter belonged almost entirely to Holon, which embarked on a 14-2 run capped by a trio of three-pointers from guard Luis Flores, giving it a 55-51 lead before the final quarter.

Haifa kept fighting in the fourth, as California-bred big man Devon Jefferson nailed a jumper in the paint to bring the Heat within four, and a Gur Porat three skimmed the lead to a single point.

Haifa finally took the lead on a B.J. McKie jumper with less than a minute to go, but its margin remained razor-thin as the clock wound down, as foul shots from both sides of the court prevented either team from pulling away.

On its final possession, with just 8.1 seconds to go, Holon got the ball to guard Brian Tolbert.

Drawing a double-team, the 34-year-old dribbled into the corner of three-point range, letting off a wild shot while almost falling out of bounds. The shot swished through the net, handing Holon its first Cup title and leaving no time on the clock for Haifa to respond.

Holon fans decked in yellow and purple jumped to their feet as Tolbert performed a victory lap around the court, trailed by his unbelieving, ecstatic teammates.