maccabi haifa BASKETBALL 248.88.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa handed Maccabi Tel Aviv its first league loss of 2009 on Sunday night, winning 79-76 at Haifa's Romema Arena. Despite starting the calendar year with 12 consecutive BSL wins, Tel Aviv has been far from impressive in recent months and finally paid the price on Sunday.
Haifa was desperate for a psychological boost ahead of the quarterfinal playoffs and a possible meeting with Tel Aviv in the Final Four, and was clearly the more determined team at Romema.
Also Sunday, Ironi Ashkelon was the big winner in the battle for the eighth and final playoff position, even though it didn't even play.
Ironi Ramat Gan and Maccabi Givat Shmuel both lost, to Bnei Hasharon and Galil/Gilboa respectively, on Sunday, meaning Ashkelon now has its fate in its own hands.
If it defeats Hapoel Holon on Monday and gets the better of Hapoel Galil/Gilboa in its final regular season game next week, it will advance to the BSL's quarterfinal playoffs from the eighth position.
Ashkelon may be playing for the questionable honor of facing Maccabi Tel Aviv in the best-of-five playoff series, but that is still far better than playing a relegation playoff for its BSL life against one of the other four bottom sides.
In Haifa, the visiting Tel Aviv side led 45-40 at the half time break, but struggled to find its rhythm in the second half and had no answer for Davon Jefferson throughout the game, with the forward scoring 28 points and taking 11 rebounds.
"We've just started to get going and we've proven tonight that we can beat anybody," Jefferson said. "We're really dangerous. We're starting to gain momentum and we feel nobody can beat us."
Aaron McGhee led Tel Aviv with 20 points, with Ido Kozikaro and Doron Perkins adding 17 and 13 points respectively for Haifa, whose coach Avi Ashkenazi was especially pleased for club owner Jeff Rosen who was watching from the stands.
"This is a significant boost for the team," Ashkenazi said. "This victory was important for Rosen. He sees it as another step forward in the club's progress.
"We made quite a few mistakes, but basketball is a game of mistakes and I'm happy we are the ones who won. I feel we are heading in the right direction now."
Tel Aviv coach Pini Gershon blamed his team's loss on the refereeing.
"Haifa was more determined and focused, but that is not why we lost," Gershon said. "I have no complaints to my players. The fact is that two of our three losses this season have come with the same referee."
Haifa was the more composed side at the start of the game and led 19-12 with three-and-a-half minutes to play in the first period after a Moshe Mizrahi jumper.
Tel Aviv would peg back Haifa immediately, however, with McGhee tying the score at 24-24 just after the first quarter buzzer sounded in a basket which should have been disallowed.
The score remained tight in the second period as well, but despite Jefferson's 19 first-half points, the visitors would open a 45-40 lead at the break.
The third quarter belonged to the hosts, with Haifa starting it with a 13-2 run to seize the intiative.
A Malik Dixon three-pointer opened a seven point advantage (56-49) and Haifa led 58-53 with 10 minutes to play after holding the visitors to just eight points in the third period.
Tel Aviv began the fourth quarter well and led 61-60 after an Omri Casspi three.
However, Haifa was soon back in front thanks to an Amit Ben-David three and maintained a slender lead until the end of the encounter against a lackluster Tel Aviv team which was unable to muster a comeback.
Meanwhile, in other BSL action Ramat Gan suffered a 77-68 home defeat to Bnei Hasharon on Sunday for its third-straight league loss.
Ramat Gan now needs to defeat Maccabi Rishon Lezion next week and for Ashkelon to lose one of its final two games to progress to the playoffs, as Ashkelon owns the tiebreaker over Ramat Gan and Nahariya based on head-to-head competition.
Sean James scored 16 points for Bnei Hasharon, with Yariv Yatzken netting 15 points for Ramat Gan.
Givat Shmuel dropped to its seventh straight league defeat on Sunday, losing 77-72 to Galil/Gilboa.
Gal Mekel scored 21 points for Galil, with Steffon Bradford scoring 20 points for Givat Shmuel.
Ironi Nahariya is still in danger of missing out on the playoffs after losing 84-77 to Maccabi Rishon Lezion after overtime.
Larry O'bannon led Rishon with 25 points, with Ron Lewis scoring 22 points for Nahariya, which faces Kiryat Ata next week.
Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Ironi Kiryat Ata 103-94 on Sunday, completing a perfect 11-0 season at the Malha Arena.
Hapoel controlled the encounter against the last-placed team, but allowed Kiryat Ata back into the game time and again, and at one stage in the fourth period led by a mere four points (74-70).
However, Guy Goodes' team quickly raced to a 10-0 run to secure the victory and a perfect home record.