Maccabi Haifa got the job done last night against Maccabi Tel Aviv, overpowering the league leader in the third quarter and averting a last-minute comeback to win 79-76. While the game bore no meaning for Tel Aviv, which has already clinched the first spot for the playoffs, Haifa needed this win to solidify its hold on the number three position. It now needs Hapoel Holon to lose tomorrow or to defeat Bnei Hasharon in its final contest next week to be the number three seed.
Haifa's Davon Jefferson was outstanding on offense, scoring 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting from the field and pulling down 11 rebounds.
For the most part, the first half belonged to Tel Aviv, which seemed undaunted by Haifa's home court advantage to take a five-point lead into the locker room at halftime. Haifa missed several open shots early in the second quarter until Tel Aviv started denying open looks, making it seem Haifa had missed its opportunity to take a lead.
Haifa, however, came out in the second half with a stifling defense that held Tel Aviv to just eight third quarter points, as the hosts took a 58-53 advantage. Omri Casspi propelled Tel Aviv early in the final period to a 61-60 lead, but Doron Perkins hit a three-pointer a couple of possessions later to put Haifa up 66-63. It then contained Tel Aviv and won the battle of the free-throw line in the final minute to hand Tel Aviv its third loss of the season.
Elsewhere, Oded Katash and his players won another important game yesterday, topping Givat Shmuel 77-72. Galil ran up a double-digit lead in the second quarter but failed to put away Givat Shmuel, which slowly got back into the game.
Just as Galil started pulling away in the third quarter, Givat Shmuel's foreigners Steffon Bradford and Cory Carr woke up to come within striking distance. Greg Grays cut the lead to one with under two minutes to go and threatened to take the lead on the next possession, but Galil stole the ball twice in a row and converted both fast breaks to seal the win. Galil's youngster Gal Mekel scored 21 points in the victory.
In Ramat Gan, Bnei Hasharon led from the second quarter to defeat Ramat Gan 77-68. Bnei Hasharon mixed up its man-to-man and zone defense to keep pressure on the hosts, while Shawn James and Ori Ichaki led the team on offense. The loss means Ramat Gan needs Ironi Ashkelon to lose tonight for it to hold onto the eighth spot for the playoffs.
Yesterday's 103-94 loss to Hapoel Jerusalem was typical this season for Kiryat Ata - performing better than expected but ending in defeat. The league doormat put up a fight with fast-paced Hapoel for the first 32 minutes. Kiryat Ata even recovered from a 17-point deficit in the second quarter, but a three-minute scoring drought doomed the team.
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