Although Maccabi Haifa prepared diligently for Rishon Lezion's smooth pick-and-roll offense, Avi Ashkenazi's squad didn't really need its half-court defense all that much in its 84-75 win on Monday.
A slow, methodical match-up soon developed into a game of speed and loose balls, and Rishon simply couldn't keep up.
"We couldn't respond to [Haifa's] quickness," said Rishon coach Effi Birenboim. "They grabbed the rebounds faster than us, they got out on the fast breaks, and we couldn't catch up afterwards."
Haifa forward Davon Jefferson and Rishon guard Larry O'Bannon led their respective teams with 19 points apiece, but Jefferson was able to exert his influence throughout the encounter, while O'Bannon was held to only four points in the second half.
The game was tight throughout most of the first quarter, with Rishon nursing a small advantage for a majority of the time. But trailing 22-19 with about a minute to play, Haifa closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to lead 26-22 at the break.
The pace quickened in the second quarter, as Haifa's quick hands on defense led to a number of fast breaks and a larger lead - as much as nine - for the hosts. But some inspired drives to the basket from O'Bannon, who led all scorers at the half with 15, allowed Birenboim's squad to head into the locker room trailing only 40-39.
Though O'Bannon continued to attack the rim in the third quarter, Moshe Mizrachi's three-point range soon gave Haifa a lead it would never relinquish.
The 12-year BSL veteran knocked down three long-range jumpers within a few minutes, giving Haifa a 53-44 lead.
Rishon kept battling, however, and entered the final quarter trailing 62-54.
Point guard Meir Tapiro, in only his second league game with Rishon, seemed determined to show his new team that he still has some gas in the tank.
The 34-year-old former Israel captain hit two quick threes early in the fourth, and added a sweeping left-handed layup in traffic to keep Rishon within striking distance, and the visitors trailed 74-69 with nearly three minutes to play.
But Haifa guard Jason Rich nailed a straightaway three to push the lead back to eight, and after his team converted its freethrows down the stretch, the Haifa starters were able to watch the last 20 seconds comfortably from the bench.
With the win, Haifa moved into seventh place in the Super League at 1-1, while Rishon, at 0-2, dropped to 10th place. Both teams face undefeated squads next week, as Haifa heads on the road to play Gilboa/Galil on Saturday night, while Rishon returns home to welcome Maccabi Tel Aviv on Sunday.