Hapoel Jerusalem forward Tony Gaffney.
(photo credit: LIRON MOLDOVAN/BSL)
Hapoel Jerusalem clinched the No. 1 seed in the BSL playoffs on Wednesday night, beating Ironi Nahariya 99-77 at the Jerusalem Arena for its ninth consecutive victory.
Jerusalem improved to 24-6, three games ahead of second- place Maccabi Tel Aviv with three regular season games remaining. Hapoel and Maccabi can still finish with the same record in an unlikely scenario in which Jerusalem loses all of its remaining games while Tel Aviv goes undefeated.
However, even should that be the case, Jerusalem will finish in first place as it owns the tiebreaker against Maccabi, sweeping its big rival 3-0 in the regular season.
While the BSL title will be decided in a Final Four tournament this season, there is still some importance to claiming the top seed, with Jerusalem to host the season finale, as well as having home-court advantage in the best-of-five quarterfinal playoffs.
Jerusalem registered yet another dominant win on Wednesday, opening a double- digit margin in the first quarter and maintaining it until the final buzzer. Despite playing without star forward Lior Eliyahu, who suffered a minor face injury earlier in the week, Hapoel took a 23-13 advantage into the second period, with the margin reaching 20 points (44-23) for the first time following Bar Timor’s basket with 3:30 minutes remaining in the first half. Nahariya entered the game on the back of impressive one-point wins over Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, but without the injured Richard Howell and Cameron Clark had no chance of mounting a comeback in Jerusalem.
Tony Gaffney led Jerusalem with 19 points, while Rafi Menco added 17 points for Hapoel, which shot 60 percent (25-of-42) from two-point range and 63 percent from beyond the arc (12-of-19), while only hitting 54 percent of its shots from the free-throw line (13-of-24).
“We remember where we were nine games ago. It is still in the back of our minds,” said Gaffney, with Jerusalem winning by an average 17.7 points in its current streak. “We know we need to continue to get better.
We love the position we are in at the moment, but it will all be for nothing if we don’t keep getting better and playing well.”
Kwame Vaughn finished with 19 points for Nahariya, which fell to 16-14, tied with Hapoel Eilat for fourth place.
Earlier Wednesday, Hapoel Tel Aviv guard Nate Robinson was suspended for one game after being ejected in the team’s 87-86 win at Ironi Ness Ziona on Sunday.