Local Basketball: Holon closes in on 1st with win over Maccabi

Perennial champion beaten 101-99; Jerusalem feeling pressure as Ironi Ashkelon beats Galil Elyon behind Burtt's 35.

Hapoel Holon 224.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
Hapoel Holon 224.88
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger )
Hapoel Holon sent Maccabi Tel Aviv a message on Monday night, defeating the perennial champion 101-99 in the BSL. Holon's coach and players have spoken all season long about winning a championship and proved on Monday that they have everything that is needed to do exactly that. Maccabi had no answer to Hapoel's streaking offense and will be dreading the prospect of facing Holon in the Final Four. P.J. Tucker scored 23 points for Holon, which has now won six straight league games and 10 of its last 11 encounters. "We did it again," said Tucker. "We showed we could play hard. You don't know how much this means to us. We don't want to worry about the championship yet and we'll take it game by game." Elton Brown and Amit Tamir added 11 points each for Holon. Terence Morris scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Maccabi, with Esteban Batista adding 18 points. Also Monday, Ironi Ashkelon mounted the pressure on Hapoel Jerusalem with an 87-83 victory at Hapoel Galil Elyon. Ashkelon cemented its fourth position in the standings thanks mainly to Steve Burtt's 35 points in 29 minutes. Yariv Yatzkan added 17 points for Ashkelon, which has now won five straight games, with Aaron Nixon leading the hosts with 19 points. Jerusalem, which has lost four straight games, hosts Maccabi Rishon Lezion on Tuesday and is in danger of losing touch with Ashkelon should it not return to winning ways immediately. Bnei Hasharon suffered its second straight loss on Monday, falling 80-75 to Ironi Ramat Gan. Ramat Gan entered the encounter on a six game losing streak, but Ori Itzhaki's 30 points finally ended the team's poor run and hurt Bnei Hasharon's hopes of finishing the regular season in first position. Ironi Nahariya remained just behind Ashkelon in the battle for a Final Four berth on Monday after winning its second straight game under new coach Roni Bosani. Nahariya defeated Hapoel Afula/Gilboa 84-80 at Ein Sara behind Ashante Johnson 21 points. In Holon, Yotam Halperin scored the first points of the game after a Maccabi fast-break and Omri Casspi's three-pointer 90 seconds into the encounter opened a 7-2 lead. Tel Aviv's early margin wouldn't last long, as four straight Chris Watson points gave the hosts their first lead of the night (12-11). Both teams caught fire as the first half progressed, hitting three-pointers as if they were lay-ups and the lead exchanged hands numerous times. A Morris basket from an offensive rebound gave Maccabi a 29-28 first period advantage, but Holon would soon take the lead once more and the game continued to seesaw in the second quarter. Neither team managed to open a substantial margin in the second period, with the gap between the sides remaining at four points or less throughout the quarter. Avishay Gordon's two points at the end of the half brought Holon within one point at the break (55-54) and capped an outstanding offensive half by both teams. The hosts scored 68 percent of their shots from two-point range, with Maccabi hitting 64% of its shots. Both teams slowed down in the third period, but the visitors were slightly sharper and Morris' basket opened a 68-60 margin, Tel Aviv's biggest of the night. Hapoel was in danger of losing touch with the perennial champion, but Tamir's three to beat the third quarter buzzer cut the gap to a mere two points (75-73). Tamir opened the fourth period with five more points and the hosts opened a promising 78-75 lead. A 7-0 Maccabi run gave the side the advantage once more, with Morris unstoppable from the paint and the perimeter. Holon quickly tied the score at 82-82 and the game was up for grabs in the final two minutes. Tucker would take control of the encounter in the final 90 seconds and almost single handedly gave his team the victory. The American forward gave Hapoel a 96-94 gap with 90 seconds to play and his lay-up with a minute to go opened a 98-94 lead. Morris hit a three in the following possession, but two more points by Tucker with 25 seconds remaining kept the hosts in control (100-97) and clinched the win.