Local Basketball: Maccabi TA are champions once more

Yellow-and-blue sweeps aside Haifa in one-sided final to reclaim title it lost last year.

maccabi haifa basketball tel aviv (photo credit: )
maccabi haifa basketball tel aviv
(photo credit: )
After a one-season break, normal service was resumed in the BSL on Thursday night. A year after seeing its 14-season stranglehold on the championship ended by Hapoel Holon, Maccabi Tel Aviv regained the league title on Thursday night with a commanding 85-72 victory over Maccabi Haifa Heat at the Nokia Arena. Haifa began the game well and led for the first 15 minutes, but Tel Aviv seized control by the break and was too strong for the Heat in the second half, eventually cruising to its 38th league title in the last 40 years. Tel Aviv hadn't gone consecutive seasons without winning the league for more than 40 years, but after it fell behind early in Thursday's game and trailed by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, it seemed as if the unthinkable might happen. However, Pini Gershon's men fought their way back into the game and made sure their coach claimed his seventh league title in seven seasons in charge at Tel Aviv. Carlos Arroyo led Tel Aviv with 22 points, six assists and five rebounds, with D'or Fischer adding 19 points and 11 rebounds and Omri Casspi contributing 15 points. Doron Perkins scored 25 points for Haifa in the loss, with Davon Jefferson adding 16 points and 12 rebounds for Avi Ashkenazi's troops. It was clear from the very start that the final would be decided mainly by grit and determination, and it was Haifa which had the better of the early exchanges. Moshe Mizrahi's three-pointer six minutes into the game opened a 15-10 lead and a Malik Dixon triple with a minute to play in the first frame proved to be the last basket of the quarter and gave Haifa a 19-16 advantage. The Heat extended their lead at the start of the second period by suffocating the Tel Aviv's offense and shooting accurately from the free-throw line. Two straight Brookes Sales jumpers to start the quarter opened a seven-point cushion (23-16) and another basket by the limping American center gave Haifa a 32-20 margin. Just when it seemed the pressure was getting to Tel Aviv, Gershon's men seized the initiative thanks to their defensive play. Tel Aviv recorded stop after stop on the defensive end and the introduction of Derrick Sharp provided much needed points from beyond the arc, which quickly cut Haifa's lead and put the yellow-and-blue in front. Two straight three's by Sharp, the second coming with just under two minutes to play in the first half, gave the team a 38-37 lead and Tel Aviv took a four-point advantage (43-39) into the break. Jefferson picked up two quick fouls at the start of the second half, giving him four with plenty of time left, but Haifa remained within touching distance even without its star on the court and didn't allow Tel Aviv to open a comfortable margin. The teams traded free-throws before Mizrahi brought the Heat within three midway through the period after scoring from beyond the arc. Haifa would go on to close the gap to two points, but Tel Aviv ended the quarter better than its opponent and took a 65-58 lead into the final 10 minutes after Sales could only make one of two from the line. Tel Aviv came out on fire at the beginning of the fourth, and opened a 71-60 advantage after a Tal Burstein three was followed by another Arroyo three-point play. Haifa was growing tired and losing faith, and by the midway point of the fourth quarter Tel Aviv had opened a margin from which the Heat could not return. Burstein and Arroyo proved to be Tel Aviv's heroes, and two more baskets by the pair gave the team a 77-64 lead and got the Tel Aviv fans' championship celebrations off to an early start. Earlier Thursday, Hapoel Galil/Gilboa booked its place in next season's Eurocup competition after defeating Hapoel Jerusalem 101-96.