Maccabi Tel Aviv capped the most remarkable of seasons in appropriate fashion on Wednesday night, claiming a 51st Israeli championship in club history despite losing 84-82 in overtime to Maccabi Haifa at Nokia Arena.
After winning the State Cup earlier this season and stunningly lifting the Euroleague trophy last month, Maccabi regained the BSL title with a two-point aggregate victory after defeating Haifa by four points (81-77) on the road in the first leg on Sunday.
The tight and tense second leg went back and forth on Wednesday and had to be decided in overtime, with Haifa leading 79-75 at the end of regulation.
The defending champion from Haifa also had its chances in the extra period, but Maccabi held on by the skin of its teeth, with an Alex Tyus block at the buzzer securing its triumph in what may well have been coach David Blatt’s final game with the team.
Ricky Hickman led Tel Aviv with 22 points, with Tyrese Rice adding 15 points.
Donta Smith was sensational for Haifa with 29 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but couldn’t quite drag his team over the finish line.
Haifa experienced an early scare when regular season MVP Smith hobbled to the bench in clear pain less than two minutes into the game. However, he returned two minutes later and the Greens never allowed Maccabi out of their sights.
Hickman carried the yellow-and-blue on his back in the first quarter, scoring 10 of his team’s first 16 points before an Alex Tyus basket gave the hosts a six-point cushion (18-12).
However, Tel Aviv was misfiring badly from beyond the arc, hitting just 2-of-9 attempts in the first quarter, and Ben Rice’s buzzer-beating triple, Haifa’s first of the night, brought the visitors within a single point (18-17) after 10 minutes.
A Terrence Roderick three gave Haifa the lead on aggregate for the first time (24-18) and Adrian Henning’s free throws completed a 14-0 Haifa run two minutes into the second period (26-18).
However, Rice ensured Tel Aviv remained within striking distance with four straight points (28-24) and Blu hit two consecutive triples to bring Maccabi within a single possession.
After making little to no contribution in recent months, Joe Ingles burst into life in the closing stages of the first half, first tying the score (35-35) and then scoring a three as the buzzer sounded to give Maccabi a onepoint edge (38-37) at the break.
However, the momentum swung right back in Haifa’s favor at the start of the second half, with a three-point play by Smith reestablishing an eight-point gap (50-42) for the Greens. Smith’s points from the line took Haifa’s margin to a record nine points (56-47), but the hosts would score the next nine points, with triples by Ingles and Guy Pnini tying the score at 56-56.
The visitors scored the final three points of the third frame to take a three-point advantage (59-56) into the final 10 minutes of the season, but the start of the fourth quarter belonged to the yellow-and-blue.
A three-point move by Hickman leveled the score and another three by the American guard opened a five-point lead (64-59).
Haifa looked to be in real trouble, but Smith made sure the Greens never lost touch. The American forward carried his team on offense, scoring seven straight points at one stage to cap a 10-2 Haifa surge (71-68).
A fortuitous three by Dagan Yavzuri gave Haifa the lead on aggregate once more (77- 72) with 2:30 remaining and the score was all tied over the two legs with one minute to play (79-75) after a Smith basket.
Both teams had their chances to secure the win in the final 60 seconds before the season ultimately came down to a video replay.
Tel Aviv had the final opportunity in regulation, but Blu missed his shot and Devin Smith’s basket from the offensive rebound was disallowed after a tense couple of minutes in which the referees examined the replay of the incident.
Neither team handled their nerves very well in overtime, and it was no surprise that the season was only decided in the final seconds of the extra period.
Haifa took a two-point lead (84-82) into the the final minute, but Henning and Moran Rot both missed opportunities to level the score on aggregate yet again and Smith’s drive to the basket was blocked by Tyus at the buzzer to give Maccabi the sweetest of triumphs in the most nerve-wracking of fashions.