The battle for the final berth in the BSL Final Four heated up Monday night after Ironi Nahariya defeated Hapoel Jerusalem 109-96 and Hapoel Galil Elyon-Golan lost 114-100 to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Matchday 23 games.
Nahariya and Galil, who will meet in their penultimate regular season game in two weeks, are 12-11 and tied with 35 points in fourth and fifth place.
A 13-1 Nahariya run gave the hosts a 29-21 lead, but a good first period by Timmy Bowers kept Jerusalem in touch and cut his team's deficit to a 31-28 at quarter's end.
Ironi raced to a big lead once again in the second period, but a late, 25-7 surge by Hapoel helped it back into the game and Jerusalem trailed 59-53 at halftime.
The third quarter was tight throughout, with Hapoel trailing only 79-77 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
A Guy Pnini basket tied the score at 86 four minutes into the final period, but Jerusalem faded in the crucial moments and allowed Nahariya to run away with the win.
Hapoel only scored 10 points to Nahariya's 23 in the last six minutes of the game.
Nahariya was led by Juan Mendez, who scored 31 points, while Mario Austin's 26 points and nine rebounds were not enough for Jerusalem.
Maccabi Tel Aviv 114,Hap Galil Elyon-Golan 100
After a tight start, Tel Aviv opened a double-digit lead thanks to superb shooting by Simas Jasaitis and Yaniv Green.
A Jasaitis layup two minutes from the end of the first period gave Maccabi its biggest lead of the first half (28-15) and Galil was reeling.
However, two straight baskets by Gili Mosinson to end the period cut Hapoel's deficit to 32-26.
Two straight three-pointers by Jasaitis, who scored all of his 19 points in the first half, gave Maccabi a substantial 53-42 lead two minutes from the end of the half. A 10-3 run by Hapoel at the end of the half cut the lead once more and gave Galil hope at the break.
Galil ate away at the remainder of Maccabi's lead at the start of the second half. Kenny Adeleke brought the hosts to within 64-63 three minutes into the third quarter, but that would be as close as Hapoel would come as Maccabi's outstanding three-point shooting helped the team pull away.
A Yotam Halperin three, his team's seventh of the period, gave Maccabi an 82-70 advantage from which Galil would not return.
Hapoel didn't allow the perennial national champion to open too big of a lead during the fourth period, but it failed to mount a serious challenge.
Will Bynum orchestrated the Maccabi offense and recorded a BSL season-high 16 assists to go with his 14 points.
Galil's Chester Simmons led all scorers with 24 points.
Also Monday night, Hapoel Afula/Gilboa took a significant step towards another season in the BSL by defeating fellow struggler Maccabi Rishon Lezion 77-69.
Afula, which was led by Rich Melzer, who scored 16 points and grabbed six rebounds, only pulled away at the closing stages of the game.
Ironi Ramat Gan recorded an important 89-85 away win against Maccabi Givat Shmuel on Monday in a battle between two more teams hoping to avoid relegation.
Rob Brown led Ramat Gan with 27 points and five rebounds.
Bnei Hasharon all but secured third place in the standings by recording its 15th win of the season, defeating Ironi Ashkelon 95-77.
Bnei Hasharon trailed early in the game, but a 32-15 third quarter guaranteed the win against poor Ashkelon.
Jason Williams led Bnei Hasharon with 27 points, with Cookie Belcher adding 22 points.