(photo credit: Noam Galai)
Hapoel Holon may have defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv 83-71 on Monday night, but the game will be remembered just as much for an entirely different reason.
Holon fans had waited seven years for the chance to see Maccabi play in the flesh at their home arena, but the home faithful had to settle for their TV sets as Hapoel had been sentenced by an Israel Basketball Association tribunal to play eight home games in front of empty stands because of its fans involvement in the fire-cracker incident at Malha Arena last month.
A few dozen Holon supporters protested outside the arena and celebrated with the players after the game.
Holon coach Miki Dorsman returned to the sidelines on Monday for the first time since the fire-cracker explosion and out-coached his opposite number throughout the night.
"This is the biggest win of my career," Dorsman said. "We played superb defense and neutralized Maccabi's players. All my players did an excellent job and I hope they can build on this performance."
Regarding the fact that the game was played in an empty arena, Dorsman said: "This isn't just sad for us, but for Israeli basketball as a whole. Our punishment must be reconsidered."
A dreadful first half by both teams ended in a two-point Holon lead, but a 21-6 run to start the fourth period made sure the host claimed its second straight win and Maccabi fell to its second league defeat in eight days.
Tel Aviv was humbled by Bnei Hasharon in Ra'anana last week and its defeat in Holon was further proof that the perennial champion is far from its usual dominating self.
Eric Campbell led Holon with 23 points and seven rebounds, with Chester Simmons adding 18 points. P.J Tucker and Moran Rot added 13 and 12 points, respectively.
"This is an amazing feeling," Rot said after the game.
Alex Garcia and David Bluthenthal were the only Maccabi players to end the game in double-figures, scoring 17 and 10 points, respectively.
After a tight start to the game Maccabi went on an 8-2 run that gave the team a 17-10 lead.
The host edged its way back into the game as the period progressed and came within three points by the end of the quarter (19-16).
Rot's jumper three-and-a-half minutes into the second period tied the score at 22-22, but a quick 7-0 run, which was capped by Alex Garcia's basket, opened a seven point margin for Tel Aviv once more (29-22). Those would, however, prove to be the visitors' last points of the first half as Holon raced to a 9-0 quarter ending run and Hapoel was ahead 31-29 at the break.
A Yotam Halperin triple regained Maccabi's lead (34-33), but a 9-2 run capped by Tucker's three point move opened a six point margin for the hosts (42-36). Two three-pointers by Bluthenthal and Will Bynum's steal and basket helped Tel Aviv to a 10-2 run and turned the game on its head once more (46-44).
The host, however, answered back with a 10-2 run of their own and led 54-52 with 10 minutes to play.
Holon surged ahead at the start of the fourth quarter and clinched the win with a 14-2 run.
Campbell dominated under the basket and his dunk three-and-a-half minutes into the final period extended the margin to 14 points (68-54).
Hapoel continued to increase its advantage until the end of the game and sent Maccabi to another humiliating defeat.
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