Maccabi Tel Aviv had to dig deep before recording an 88-82 victory over Hapoel Jerusalem in its BSL opener at Nokia Arena on Sunday night.
Maccabi led by as many as 16 points in the first half and reestablished a double-digit gap in the final frame.
However, Jerusalem showed some real fight and closed back to within one point, only to come up just short of registering the upset.
David Logan scored 20 points for Maccabi, with Yogev Ohayon, Lior Eliyahu and Giorgi Shermadini adding 12 points each.
Courtney Fells had 21 points for Jerusalem, with Josh Duncan and Craig Smith scoring 16 points each for Hapoel, which can be encouraged by its performance despite the defeat.
Jerusalem caught Maccabi off-guard at the start of the game, scoring eight points in the first minute-and-a-half to open an early 8-2 lead.
However, Tel Aviv would seize control soon enough, with Ricky Hickman’s three-point play tying the game at 16-16 before Logan’s dunk to end the quarter gave Maccabi a 24-23 advantage.
With momentum on its side Maccabi surged ahead in the second period, opening the quarter with a 13-2 run, capped by two straight Malcolm Thomas dunks, to open a 37-25 gap.
The margin reached 14 points (54- 40) by the break, but Hapoel fought back in the third period, mounting what seemed like an extremely unlikely comeback.
Meir Tapiro orchestrated Jerusalem’s play to perfection and Jacob Pullen’s three-pointer with 2:40 to play in the quarter tied the game at 62-62.
Maccabi had just a one-point margin (66-65) with 10 minutes remaining, but it outscored Jerusalem 9-0 in the first three minutes of the fourth period to regain a double-digit gap (75-65).
But Hapoel never gave up the chase, closing to within one point (79-78) with 3:15 to play following a Tapiro basket.
However, Jerusalem could not complete the comeback, with the yellowand- blue scoring the next six points to secure the victory.
Also Sunday, Hapoel Eilat made a winning return to the top flight, edging Ironi Ashkelon 78-74 in the first game to be hosted by Israel’s southernmost city since 1999.
There was very little to separate both teams throughout the entire game, with Ashkelon’s Marcus Moore’s three-point play tying the score at 73-73 ahead of the final minute of regulation.
However, Moore would miss in Ashkelon’s next possession and Eilat would clinch the win from the freethrow line, with Scotty Hopson icing the victory with two shots from the line with 3.5 seconds to play.
Eli Holman led Eilat with a tremendous double-double, scoring 21 points and taking 20 rebounds.
Hopson and Austin Freeman added 17 points each, while Moore had 20 points for Ashkelon.
“I was really concerned about this game,” said Eilat coach Oded Katash.
“There was a lot of excitement because this was our first home game and we didn’t even play to 60 percent of our capability.
“I think we have a lot of potential but we are still a long way from where we want to be.”
Maccabi Ashdod was one of the league’s best teams in the preseason, reaching the Winner Cup final, but last campaign’s runner-up began 2012/13 with a defeat on Sunday, losing 87-75 at Barak Netanya.
Ashdod got off to the better start, but the hosts came right back and the game was up for grabs with 10 minutes to play, with the visitors holding a 56-54 lead.
However, the final quarter would belong to Netanya, which outscored its opponent 33-19 on the way to confidence-boosting win.
Ramel Bradley had 19 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists for Netanya, while Diamon Simpson led Ashdod with 24 points and eight boards.
Hapoel Gilboa/Galil’s woes continued on Sunday, losing 70-54 to Maccabi Rishon Lezion at home.
Rishon couldn’t build on an 8-0 run to start the game and held just a 31- 28 lead over Gilboa at the break.
However, the visitors got the second half off to a fast start and outscored Gilboa 22-11 in the third quarter to open a 14-point gap (53-39) they easily converted to a first win, Adrian Uter had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Rishon, with Kenny Hayes scoring 14 for Gilboa.
On Monday, Hapoel Tel Aviv returns to the BSL after six years, hosting Bnei Herzliya at its new home in Rishon Lezion.