Hapoel Jerusalem guard Yotam Halperin (right) had a game-high 23 points in last night’s 73-66 victory over Taylor Rochestie (left) and Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Jerusalem Arena..
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
Hapoel Jerusalem completed a regular-season sweep of Maccabi Tel Aviv on Monday night, claiming a 73-66 win at the Jerusalem Arena to take a significant step towards wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the BSL playoffs.
Jerusalem opened a two-game gap over Maccabi by improving to an 18-6 record thanks to its impressive defensive display in the second half, holding the yellow- and-blue to just 25 points.
After claiming an 89-82 win in Tel Aviv last October and a 94-85 victory in Jerusalem in January, Hapoel moved to 3-0 against Maccabi this season, gaining a psychological edge ahead of a possible meeting in the Final Four.
Following best-of-five quarterfinals, the league championship will be decided in a Final Four, with the team to end the regular season in first place to host the season-ending tournament.
Yotam Halperin led Jerusalem with 23 points, with Dragan Bender Maccabi’s top scorer with a mere 11 points.
Jerusalem scored the first seven points of the night, but Maccabi soon found its rhythm.
A Bender triple in front of the NBA scouts in attendance, including Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, gave Maccabi a 26-19 lead after 10 minutes.
The hosts began the second frame with a 10-2 run to move in front and the lead would exchange hands until the break, which the teams entered tied at 41-41.
Hapoel opened an eightpoint margin (58-50) towards the end of the third quarter, but Maccabi remained within striking distance with 10 minutes to play (58-52) following Taylor Rochestie’s buzzer-beater.
However, momentum remained on Jerusalem’s side at the start of the fourth frame, with the hosts establishing a double-digit margin (69-58) midway through the period from which Maccabi could not return.
Also Monday, Paul Delaney free throws with one second to play gave Maccabi Kiryat Gat a precious 87-86 win at Maccabi Ashdod. Kiryat Gat broke a tie with last place Ironi Ness Ziona by improving to 8-16.
Alando Tucker led Kiryat Gat with 22 points, while Delaney finished with 21 and Marco Killingsworth added 20 points and eight boards.
Charles Thomas had 21 points for Ashdod, which fell to 11-13 and leads Hapoel Tel Aviv in the battle for the eighth and final playoff berth by a single game.
Only three games separate Bnei Herzliya in fourth (13-11) and Tel Aviv in ninth (10-14), with Hapoel Eilat and Ironi Nahariya both in that mix after the former beat the latter 78-71 on Monday.
Alade Aminu helped Eilat improve to 12-12 by leading five players in double figures with 16 points. Richard Howell scored 21 points for Nahariya, which dropped to 13-11.
Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv fans were still buzzing on Monday after Nate Robinson’s dream debut the previous night. The three-time NBA dunk champion scored 25 points in a 103-94 win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion at the Drive-In Arena in what was his first game since being waived by the New Orleans Pelicans last October.
The 10-year NBA veteran said he came to Hapoel to play with former University of Washington teammate Tre Simmons and that he thoroughly enjoyed playing in front of the Hapoel fans.
“I knew what I could do and that it was just a matter of time until a team gave me a chance and it was this team,” said Robinson.