hapoel holon champions .
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
After 14 seasons of Maccabi Tel Aviv dominance, Israeli basketball has a new champion.
Malik Dixon's basket with 2.3 seconds to play in the Final Four title game on Thursday night gave Hapoel Holon a 73-72 victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv at the Nokia Arena.
Maccabi had claimed the last 14 Israeli championships and 37 of the last 38 titles entering into Thursday's game, but Holon, which finished the regular season in first position, believed all along it could get the better of Tel Aviv and edged the reigning champion in a gripping final.
P.J. Tucker, the BSL's MVP, led Holon with 18 points, with Dixon adding 10 points.
Terence Morris scored 20 points for Maccabi, which finishes the season empty handed.
Both teams were firing on all cylinders right from the start and it was clear that the capacity crowd at the Nokia Arena was in for an enthralling encounter.
A Yotam Halperin triple after two minutes gave Tel Aviv a 10-5 lead and Omri Casspi's lay-up soon after extended the margin to six points (14-8), Maccabi's biggest of the first 20 minutes.
It would, however, not be long before Holon was back on level terms once more, with Maccabi paying the price for failing to stop Hapoel's offensive rebounding.
A Derrick Sharp triple to end the first quarter made sure the score was tied at the start of the second period (23-23) and a Morris dunk soon after regained the lead for Sherf's men (27-25).
The lead would go on to change hands numerous times in the final three minutes of the first half, with each side edging in front by the smallest of margins each time, and two Alex Garcia free throws gave Tel Aviv a 38-37 advantage at the break.
Maccabi looked sharper during the early stages of the second half and Halperin's three extended the gap to 46-41.
Another Halperin basket midway through the quarter gave Tel Aviv its first significant margin of the night (50-43), but Holon was far from done and Dixon's crazy triple with just over a minute to play in the period brought the side back within four points (53-49).
Avishay Gordon's basket from beyond the arc at the beginning of the final period brought Hapoel to within one possession (58-55), but David Bluthenthal immediately hit a three for Maccabi, regaining its cushion.
Tel Aviv was starting to look like the likelier winner as time wound down, but Hapoel never gave up and Chester Simmons' lay-up at the end of a Holon fast-break edged the regular season leader ever closer (65-61) and two Tucker free throws with two-and-a-half minutes to play tied the score at 67-67.
Maccabi was in complete disarray and with one-and-a-half minutes remaining, Holon retook the lead. Dixon's three point play gave Hapoel a 70-67 advantage, but the American guard would hand Maccabi a lifeline seconds later when he turned over the ball, allowing Bluthenthal to tie the score from the free-throw line (70-70).
Tucker scored just one of two from the line with 22 seconds to play and Vujcic put Maccabi back ahead with 6.5 seconds to play. Maccabi's reign would, however, end in the subsequent seconds as Dixon floated to the winning basket to clinch the championship.