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(photo credit: Roi Levy)
In a high spirited contest befitting the classic rivalry, Maccabi Tel Aviv held off a late Hapoel Jerusalem rally to claim a 94-87 road victory on Thursday night in the penultimate game of the BSL regular season for both clubs.
It was the fourth loss in six league games for Hapoel, which fell to 13-8 on the season and, with Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Gilboa/Galil both losing on the road, missed out on a golden opportunity to all-but clinch a top-four finish and home-court advantage in the quarterfinal playoffs.
Guy Pnini was a scorching four of seven from beyond the arc for the victors en route to a game-high 23 points and Alan Anderson took over in the fourth quarter to power Pini Gershon’s club to its 10th-straight victory and improve to 20-1 atop the league standings.
Pooh Jeter led Hapoel in a losing cause with 18 points as Jerusalem dropped another game at home in what has been a miserable couple of months for Guy Goodes's once high-flying squad.
Elsewhere Thursday, Maccabi Haifa was surprised 73-71 at Ironi Ashkelon, with Omar Sneed scoring 19 points for the winners, who clinched sixth position in the standings.
Richard Roby had 15 points for Haifa, which still has its fate in its own hands ahead of its final regular season game against Jerusalem.
Gilboa lost 76-73 at rock-bottom Ironi Ramat Gan, with Brandon Ewing hitting the winning three-pointer with 0.6 seconds to play.
Chris Watson had 18 points for Ramat Gan, while Elishay Kadir scored 21 points for Gilboa, which squandered a golden opportunity to close in on home-court advantage in the playoffs.
Ironi Nahariya kept its playoff hopes alive with a 78-72 home win over Hapoel Holon. Steven Smith scored 20 points for Nahariya, which will play Bnei Hasharon for a place in the quarterfinals in nine days time.
Justin Dentmon scored 26 points in Hapoel Afula’s 79-77 victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Thursday, but Afula still lost any hope of reaching the playoffs after Nahariya won.
Back in the capital, the festive atmosphere was set early on.
D’or Fischer got Maccabi off to a sizzling start, hitting his first three shots for an early 6-2 advantage. However Dijon Thomson started a run for the hosts and gave Jerusalem a brief lead.
Pnini hit a three from the top of the key as he was being fouled by Yuval Naimi and he converted the four-point play to give the yellow-and-blue an 18-15 advantage.
But the hosts hung tough and a running floater at the first-quarter buzzer from Yogav Ohayon gave them the 25-23 advantage.
Lyons deftly put the ball in and Jeter hit a three in transition to give the home team a 37-33 margin, however, a couple of Jerusalem turnovers and another Pnini three gave the visitors a slim three-point lead that they would extend to 46-41 to go into break.
The second half began with a flurry of missed shots on both sides before a hard flagrant foul on Pnini from Thompson propelled Ma]ccabi on a mini-run. A Raviv Limonad three extended the lead to nine before a nifty Hunter layup stemmed the tide.
Tel Aviv began to pull away in the third quarter, taking a 56-45 lead before Sharon Sasson brought it back to single digits with a long trey.
Hapoel kept the pressure on, with Hunter getting to the line and Yogev Ohayon gashing the Maccabi defense for a running layup and four-point Jerusalem advantage.
However, a David Blutenthal off-balanced three from the wing made it 72-72 with under eight minutes to go.
Alan Anderson rebounded his own driving miss for an easy put-in to
reclaim the lead for the visitors, before a pair of Thompson
free-throws tied the score once again, only to have Anderson nail a
three on the ensuing trip down the court.
Hapoel’s offense went stagnant though and they went more than five
minutes without a field goal to allow Maccabi to go on an 12-1 run and
essentially put the game away.
A monster alley-oop throw-down from Lyons followed by a four-point play
from Sasson kept the hosts in the contest, but Anderson banked in a
runner for his 12th and 13th points of the quarter as Tel Aviv was just
too much for a beleagured Hapoel team that is heading towards the
postseason with question marks abound.