Any notion that Maccabi Tel Aviv would cruise to a second straight BSL title this season was dispelled on Thursday night when Hapoel Jerusalem recorded an impressive 86-80 victory over the yellow-and-blue in the final of the preseason Winner Cup at the Malha Arena.
The rollercoaster encounter went back and forth, with Jerusalem trailing by 14 points in the first period, but leading by 17 in the third, only for Maccabi to take a four-point advantage into the fourth quarter.
In the final 10 minutes Hapoel and Maccabi battled for the win as if it were the Final Four title game rather than a preseason showdown.
And Jerusalem eventually clinched the victory thanks to clutch scoring by Tre Simmons, who spent much of last season on the Tel Aviv bench.
Simmons led Jerusalem with 24 points and eight rebounds, hitting five of eight from beyond the arc. Dijon Thompson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, with Yuval Naimi scoring 16 points and passing seven assists.
"Our players showed their character and this victory will give us a lot of confidence," Jerusalem coach Guy Goodes said.
Alan Anderson scored 18 of Maccabi's 35 first half points and ended the game with 26. Guy Pnini and D'or Fischer added 16 and 10 points respectively, but Tel Aviv did not get any significant contributions from any of its other expensive stars.
Anderson opened the game with a three-pointer, but Hapoel remained in touch and the score was tied at 8-8 four minutes into the encounter.
However, the subsequent minutes were dominated by Maccabi, and especially Anderson.
The American swingman scored at will, with his 14th point of the game opening a 22-8 lead.
Jerusalem looked completely out of it, but slowly edged its way back into the game, with Naimi's three capping a 7-0 run to end the first quarter and bringing Jerusalem within seven points (25-18).
Thompson began the second period with seven straight points and suddenly the score was tied (27-27).
A Simmons three point move soon after gave Hapoel its first lead since the third minute of the encounter (33-30) and Maccabi began to struggle. Simmons was unstoppable against his former team and his three-point effort gave the reds a 42-35 advantage.
Tel Aviv looked helpless and was desperate for the first half to end, especially after Anderson had to be helped off the court after smacking his head against teammate Andrew Wisniewski.
However, Hapoel would extend the lead even further in the final minute of the first half, with Simmons's buzzer-beating three opening a 50-35 lead at the break. Â
And while Hapoel continued to roll at the start of the second half Jerusalem would score just two more points in the remainder of the third quarter.
Pnini and Gal Mekel energized Maccabi at both ends of the court and the latter's free throws gave the team a 63-59 advantage at the end of the third quarter.
With two minutes to play, Tel Aviv led 76-74 after a Chuck Eidson three, but Simmons answered back with a triple of his own in the next possession and the American scorer extended Hapoel's gap to four points (80-76) with another three with 1:12 to play.
The game was slipping out of Maccabi's hands and after Anderson missed in Tel Aviv's next possession, Thompson dunked at the other end and the Hapoel fans began to celebrate.