Heroic Holon dethrones Maccabi Tel Aviv
Hapoel Holon last night stunned perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv to lift the Premier League title and end the Yellow's 14-year domination of the domestic basketball league.
The 73-72 victory - one of the most dramatic in recent history - prevented Maccabi from winning its 48th title and made Holon just the sixth team to win the coveted prize.
In a tight game, where the biggest margin was just eight points, Zvika Sheft's Maccabi was unable to find its rhythm, while Miki Dorsman's underdog Holon team displayed the same determination that led it to second place in the regular league and earned it many admirers.
After the game, Dorsman said his team had been convinced that it was capable of dethroning Maccabi. "Our players were simply out of this world," he told Channel 10 television. "We were not the underdog, we were never the underdog and we thoroughly deserve this. But most of all, this victory is for our fantastic fans. We went through some tough crises during the season, but I have to say - it was worth it all."
The game began with a foul by Tony Washam on Nikola Vujcic. Cummings sank a three-pointer and gave Maccabi an early 3-0 lead. Moran Roth then sank a three-pointer of his own to level the score, before Vujcic banked one in to give Maccabi the lead again. When Chris Watson was stopped on a foul, he went to the free-throw line and leveled the score again at 5-5.
Vujcic continued to play well, hitting from under the basket, while at the other end, Roth missed a three-pointer and the Yellows took the rebound. Yotam Halperin sank another three-pointer to stretch Maccabi's lead to five points, while Terence Morris missed his attempt, allowing Roth to cut the advantage to just two points. Morris dunked and gave Maccabi a 12-8 lead with under seven minutes left to play in the first quarter.
A wonderful assist sent Omri Casspi in under the basket, as Maccabi extended its lead to six points, but Eric Campbell sank a basket from way out and P.J. Tucker grabbed an offensive rebound to cut the deficit to just two points.
When Casspi missed a three-pointer and Roth found the target with two free throws, Holon had its nose in front for the first time in the game, leading 19-16.
Tucker missed two free throws, and even when Campbell took the rebound on the second, Chester Simmons was unable to take advantage. Vujcic sank two free throws to cut Holon's lead to just a single point, with two minutes left in the first quarter. Tucker used the backboard to stretch the advantage to three (21-18), but Morris score from inside the paint to drag Maccabi back into the game. Guni Izraeli extended Holon's lead to three points, but Derrick Sharp scored an unbelievable three-pointer to level the score at 23-23 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter started with Tucker scoring close to the end of the shot clock to restore Holon's advantage, which was short-lived, as Morris took an offensive rebound to level things up again. Will Bynum was guilty of turning the ball over to Holon, but immediately made amends with a fantastic steal, allowing Morris to score and give Maccabi the lead again.
David Bluthenthal's second foul of the night was called for a foul on Tucker, and after the two teams exchanged free throws, the score was level at 29-29 with seven minutes left to play in the half. At the end of the second quarter, Alex Garcia went to the foul line and gave Maccabi the slenderest of leads, 38-37, in a low-scoring and tense game.
Maccabi stretched its lead at the start of the third quarter, with Halperin sinking a three-pointer to give the Yellows a five-point advantage (46-41). At the end of the third quarter, Holon failed to take advantage of a ball from the side, and Maccabi went into the final quarter defending a 56-52 advantage.
The final, dramatic quarter started with a half-court three-pointer from Morris, followed by a basket from Halperin, which gave Maccabi its highest lead of the night: eight points.
In the final minutes, Avishay Gordon managed to cut Maccabi's lead back down to two, but Bynum scored from inside the paint to stretch the advantage back to four points.
But when Tucker scored two quick baskets to level the score, it was clear that there was a game on. Malik Dixon gave Holon a 69-67 lead, with 1:52 minutes left on the clock, adding a free throw to give Holon a three-point lead.
Bluthenthal missed a three-pointer, but Watson fouled Casspi, sending Bynum to the line. His two throws were on target and when Garcia sank another free throw, Maccabi found itself on level terms.
The teams exchanged fouls and when Tucker sank just one his two attempts, giving Holon a 71-70 advantage, Miki Dorsman called a time-out.
Vujcic sank two free throws, and, with 6.5 seconds left to play, it looked for all the world that Maccabi was about to win its 48th league championship. When the players returned from another time out, Dixon drove to the hoop and scored the basket that gave Israel a new basketball champion.
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