Hapoel Jerusalem took a 1-0 lead in its best-of-five BSL quarterfinal playoff series against Hapoel Holon with a 78-73 victory at Malha Arena on Sunday night, while Ironi Ashkelon snatched home-court advantage from Maccabi Rishon Lezion with a surprise 64-63 road win.

Only Ron Lewis’s buzzerbeating three-pointer separated Jerusalem and Holon after an extremely tight first half, with the visitors taking a 43-40 lead into the break.

Holon raced into a sevenpoint advantage early in the second half, but the hosts never lost touch and trailed by just four points (61-57) with 10 minutes to play.

The game would turn on an 8-0 Jerusalem run early in the fourth frame (67-64), with the hosts’ defensive play making the difference.

With just over two minutes left to play, Holon missed three shots from beyond the arc in a single possession before Yuval Naimi hit his second straight triple at the other end to open a sevenpoint gap (73-66) from which the visitors could not come back.

“This was a battle as we expected,” said Jerusalem coach Sharon Drucker. “We had to be patient, but towards the end of the game we improved our defensive play significantly and that made all the difference.”

D.J. Strawberry led Jerusalem with 17 points, while Naimi and Ramel Bradley scored 14 points each for Hapoel, which was outrebounded 41-33, but committed six fewer turnovers than Holon (8 to 14).

Lewis had 24 points for Holon, which also got 13 points each from Moran Rot and Tasmin Mitchell.

“We will have to study this loss very well to find a way to defeat Jerusalem in Game 2 next week,” said Holon coach Dan Shamir.

In Rishon, the hosts held a seven-point lead after holding Ashkelon to just eight points in the first quarter and took a double-digit margin (31-21) into the break.

However, Ashkelon tied the score at 32-32 with a 13-1 surge and there would be little to separate the teams after that.

Derwin Kitchen’s basket with 25 seconds to play gave Rishon the edge (63-62), but Ashkelon’s Dwayne Mitchell kept his cool from the free throw line with 5.8 remaining and Joe Crawford’s miss at the buzzer gave the visitors a crucial win ahead of Game 2 in Ashkelon next week.

Tony Skinn had 15 points for Ashkelon, with Kitchen netting 12 for Rishon.

The playoffs continue on Monday when Hapoel Gilboa/Galil hosts Maccabi Ashdod in Game 1 of the series between the No. 2 and No. 7 seeds.

The remaining playoff series will get underway on Wednesday when Maccabi Tel Aviv (1) welcomes BC Habika’a (8) to Nokia Arena.

Maccabi will be expecting to enter the BSL playoffs fresh off winning its second title of the season, with the yellow-andblue to face Cedevita Zagreb at Nokia in the Adriatic League final on Monday night.

Maccabi sailed to an 82-60 win in its Final Four semifinal against Buducnost on Saturday, while Cedevita beat Partizan Belgrade of Serbia 68-56.

Tel Aviv lost in the Adriatic League final the only other time it took part in the competition in the 2002/03 season and will not be taking anything for granted despite defeating Cedevita in both regular season meetings.

The Serbians, who ended the regular season standings in second place with a 19-7 record, gave Maccabi a real run for its money both home (83-77) and away (96-89) and will be looking, at the very least, to do so once more on Monday night.

“Cedevita has played well throughout the season and clearly this game will be a challenge for us,” said Maccabi coach David Blatt. “We respect every opponent and anything can happen in this game. We will have to be at our best to win.”

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