Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa Keep Pace in Race to Be Israeli Basketball's No. 2

Jerusalem, Haifa and Hapoel Eilat are now tied with 11-7 records, trailing Maccabi Tel Aviv at 17-1.

Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Haifa kept pace with each other Monday night in the race to be the bridesmaid of Israeli basketball's Super League. Jerusalem earned a 76-66 road win over Elitzur Ashkelon, while Haifa defended its home court against Maccabi Ashdod, 92-83.

Now Hapoel Jerusalem, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Eilat are all tied in second place with 11-7 records, far behind Maccabi Tel Aviv at 17-1.

Hapoel Jerusalem turned the tables on Ashkelon, which had notched a 91-85 upset in the capital in late November.

Monday night, Jerusalem's Craig Smith came off the bench and sparked a 10-point first-quarter run with a pair of free throws and a field goal to open up a 14-5 lead midway through the opening period. Jerusalem went up by as much as 12 points before Marcus Dove ended the first quarter with a basket to cut the hosts' advantage to 28-18.

Ashkelon was down 42-29 with 6:15 remaining in the half before coach Adi Azulay inserted Julien Mills. Mills immediately changed the tone with a steal and drew a foul.

Two possessions later, Dove scored again, followed by two three-pointers and a field goal by Jarvis Hayes, as Ashkelon went on an 18-4 tear to close out the half and take a one-point lead into the break.

But Hapoel Jerusalem regained its composure in the third quarter, reestablishing a lead that varied between three and nine, with Ashkelon never getting closer than six in the final quarter.

Smith topped Hapoel Jerusalem with 16 points, hitting five of seven field goals and all six of his free throws while pulling down seven rebounds. Hayes led Ashkelon with 19 points.

In the second game Monday night, Maccabi Haifa led pretty much wire to the wire, going up 51-37 by halftime. Ashdod rebounded in the third quarter, cutting Haifa's lead in half by the end of the period, but it never threatened in the final quarter.

James Thomas had the hot hand for Haifa with 24 points on 7-of-9 shooting from two-point range and 13 rebounds. Diamon Simpson had a double-double in Ashdod's losing effort with 19 points and 11 boards.

Rami Shalosh