Hapoel Jerusalem players.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
It may only be a pre-season game, but Hapoel Jerusalem made a strong statement on Saturday night, outplaying Maccabi Tel Aviv in a 77-62 win in the final of the Winner Cup at Ein Sara Arena in Nahariya.
Maccabi had looked more impressive in the lead-up to the final, registering wins over Euroleague powerhouses Barcelona and Panathinaikos while thrashing Ironi Nahairya by 30 points in the Winner Cup semis on Thursday.
However, its losing streak against Jerusalem reached five games over all competitions on Saturday, with Hapoel establishing a double-digit gap in the third quarter and never looking back.
Jerusalem will be hoping Saturday’s win proves to be a sign of things to come, with the team going on to claim a historic BSL championship in 2014/15 following the last time it took the pre-season cup.
Maccabi and Jerusalem met only in the BSL regular season in 2015/16, with Hapoel winning all three clashes. Their last meeting in a final came in the State Cup in 2015.
The teams also played in the Winner Cup final in 2014 and 2015, with Maccabi winning the first and Jerusalem the second.
Both teams have undergone dramatic changes since, including this past summer when both clubs replaced their coaching staffs as well as the majority of their players.
Jerusalem was led by one of its new players on Saturday, with Curtis Jerrells finishing 19 points, five assists and five rebounds.
Bar Timor added 13 points, including nine in the decisive third-quarter run, while Amar’e Stoudemire had nine points and six rebounds in 25 minutes.
Despite the impressive win, new Jerusalem coach Simone Pianigiani did his best to calm the celebrations.
“It’s only September and only one good game,” said the Italian. “Every time there is a trophy that is good for the club, but nothing has changed. It is too early and we are still working.”
Sonny Weems scored 16 points for Maccabi, with Maik Zirbes adding 13 points.
Maccabi is still without the injured Andrew Goudelock, with Devin Smith and Sylven Landesberg also being rested on Saturday.
Maccabi will look to get back on track on Tuesday when it hosts former coach David Blatt and his new Turkish team Darussafaka at Yad Eliyahu Arena.
After a tight first five minutes, Jerusalem pulled ahead by holding the yellow-andblue to only five points in the remainder of the period. Rafi Menco’s lay-up to end the quarter opened a double-digit margin (24-13), with Hapoel scoring 9-of-14 two-point attempts.
The margin continued to mushroom early in the second frame, with Jerrells’s three-pointer taking the gap to a record 18 points (33-15).
Maccabi was far from beaten though, holding Hapoel to five points in the final seven minutes of the first half, with a Guy Pnini triple with 30 seconds remaining in the second quarter capping an 18-3 run (36-33).
Maccabi still trailed by three points (38- 35) entering the second half and closed within a single point following Zirbes’s basket.
Stoudemire was sent to the bench with just under seven minutes to play and Hapoel ahead by just three points (42-39).
But it would be without Stoudemire that Jerusalem made its decisive run, with Bar Timor scoring nine points in the surge that saw Hapoel lead by as many as 17 points and by 15 points (62-47) with 10 minutes to play.
Maccabi never came close to mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter, with Hapoel pouring salt on its rival’s wounds to clinch a confidence-boosting victory.
“This game was a challenge for us and I’m happy we met it,” said Timor. “The key was to stop them on defense. We have a deep roster and have gelled which makes me very happy.”