Maccabi Tel Aviv secured first place in the BSL Thursday night with a convincing 83-71 win over rival Hapoel Jerusalem at Nokia Arena.
The game wasn't as close as the score would indicate, as the hosts maintained control throughout the second half after Jerusalem took a brief lead in the second quarter.
Maccabi, which ended a two-game BSL losing streak, improved to 17-3, while Hapoel dropped to 16-4. The two sides will meet again on Sunday at the same site in the opening game of the third round of league action.
Will Solomon led five Maccabi players in double figures with 17 against his former club. Anthony Parker and Nikola Vujcic added 15 apiece and perhaps more importantly, coach Pini Gershon finally got a solid performance from swingman Tal Burstein.
Eight days before the Euroleague Final Four, the slumping Burstein came through with 12 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals for his best allaround performance in weeks.
"Tal is an experienced player," Gershon said. "He's accomplished a lot in the last few years and is an important part of this team. We need him to play well."
Regarding the game itself, Gershon said, "We should play better against Jerusalem and we can play better. We were up by 16 and should have finished them off."
But Gershon said the result was never in doubt. "We were in control from start to finish."
Mario Austin led Hapoel with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Tamar Slay added 13 in one of his better performances this season. But the foul-prone forward tarnished his game by picking up a technical foul after fouling out in the fourth quarter.
Jerusalem starting point guard Horace Jenkins had nine points in 19 first-half minutes, but injured his leg and was not available in the second half.
Maccabi looked like it was going to win big in the opening minutes. Maceo Baston decimated Hapoel's inside game by drawing four fouls and scoring seven points as the hosts took an early 9-2 lead. But Jerusalem never faltered and as soon as it found its shooting touch, got back in the game.
Austin gave the visitors their first lead (23-22) on the first play of the second period and it would grow to six on a Jenkins three a minute-and-ahalf later, but Jerusalem's shooters fell on hard times after that. The reds missed their next 13 shots as Maccabi used a 15-1 run to regain control and head into the locker room with a 42-36 advantage.
Maccabi scored the first four points of the second half and Jerusalem never got closer than six the rest of the way. The lead grew to 59-43 on a Solomon three late in the third, but Hapoel closed the gap to eight with a 10-2 run to close the period.
Roger Mason Jr. scored the first points of the fourth quarter to make it 61-55, but Parker keyed a 6-0 spurt and Maccabi never looked back.
Allon Sinai contributed to this report.
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