After losing to Maccabi Tel Aviv time and again throughout the season, Maccabi Haifa defeated the yellow-and-blue when it mattered most on Thursday night, claiming an historic BSL championship with an 86-79 victory at Romema Arena.

Haifa had lost all five of its previous meetings with Tel Aviv, including in the State Cup final. However, it beat the yellow-and-blue on the biggest night of the season to win its first ever league title and deny Maccabi its 51st.

Thursday’s triumph was especially satisfying for Haifa’s Jewish- American coach Brad Greenberg who defeated his long-time friend David Blatt, handing the Tel Aviv coach his first ever defeat in the playoffs after 28 straight triumphs.

Pat Calathes had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Haifa, with Gal Mekel scoring 21 while Paul Stoll added 14 points.

Ricky Hickman had 28 points for Tel Aviv, which dropped the league title for the third time in six years.

Both teams hit the ground running at the start of the game, hitting practically every shot they attempted. The first five minutes of the encounter almost resembled an All-Star game, with both sides having far too many uncontested dunks and open three-point shots.

Haifa was the first to settle on the defensive end, with a Mekel basket opening a four-point edge (17-13). However, Haifa failed to take full advantage of the yellow-and-blue’s lax period and Tel Aviv was ahead 25- 24 after 10 minutes thanks to free throws from former Haifa star Sylven Landesberg.

It wouldn’t take long for Haifa to move back in front, though, with the Greens swarming Tel Aviv on defense to go on a 7-0 run in the first four minutes of the second quarter.

A Calathes jumper opened a 32-25 lead, but Maccabi would inevitably reply with a surge of its own, finally displaying why it was by far the best defensive team in the league this season to go on a five-minute 11-2 surge to regain the lead (36-34).

Hickman scored eight of Tel Aviv’s final 13 points of the half to increase his personal tally to 15 points and take the yellowand- blue’s cushion to five points (42-37) at the break.

Maccabi went on to extend its advantage to seven points (47-40), but after scoring 15 points in the opening half, Calathes continued to terrorize Tel Aviv in the third period, bringing Haifa within a single point (49-48) with his 20th point of the night.

A Mekel basket with 2:10 to play in the quarter then tied the score at 53-53 and Donta Smith free throws gave Haifa its first lead of the half (55-53) with 1:29 to play in the frame.

However, the Greens would have no answer for Hickman, who ensured Tel Aviv was still in front with 10 minutes to play, scoring five straight points to give his side a 58-57 edge.

The pressure took its toll on both teams at the start of the fourth period, but Haifa would crucially break through at the decisive moment, with a James Thomas dunk being followed by a Stoll three to open a 72-66 gap with four minutes to play.

Tel Aviv looked lost for answers and nothing was going to deny the Greens after a Smith dunk took the margin to seven points (74-67), giving the Greens an unassailable lead and sparking delirium among Haifa’s long-suffering supporters.

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