Local Hoops: J'lem victorious, other top seeds stumble in openers

All three games went right down to the wire, illustrating the competitive nature of this season's battle.

HAPOEL JERUSALEM sneed 248.88 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel Jerusalem was the only one of the four top seeds to win its opening game of the best-of-five BSL quarterfinal playoff series this weekend, edging Ironi Nahariya 78-76 at the capital's Malha Arena on Sunday night. After Maccabi Tel Aviv fell in a shock defeat to Ironi Ashkelon at the Nokia Arena on Saturday night, Maccabi Haifa and last year's champion Hapoel Holon followed suit on Sunday, losing at home to Bnei Hasharon and Hapoel Galil/Gilboa, respectively. All three of Sunday's games went right down to the wire, illustrating the intensely competitive nature of this season's battle for the championship, and all will be up for grabs when the series resume next weekend. The winners in the first-round matchups will qualify for the season-ending Final Four tournament. Haifa had the lead for much of the contest with Hasharon at its Romema Arena but ended up disappointing its fans in a 69-66 loss. Holon, meanwhile, opened up a 10-point lead three-quarters of the way through the third frame, only to freeze in the final stanza, totally lose its footing and fall, 81-74, despite its home-crowd support. Ironi coach Ya'akov Jino was livid as the final buzzer sounded in his team's game at Malha, as it seemed apparent that another 0.7 seconds were still left on the clock and Nahariya could have had a chance to win it. However, he was unable to convince the referee of any mistake and the team in purple will have to regroup ahead of next week's encounter. "The momentum is with us," Hapoel Jerusalem coach Guy Goodes said. "It was a classic playoff game with a lot tension and opportunities and it could have gone both ways, but we are going to take a rest and then begin preparing for next week." Jino had calmed by the time he spoke to reporters, telling them that he had told his players that "everything is possible," as this is only the start of the series. Nahariya's Ron Lewis was the top scorer in the game with 26 points, while Omar Sneed scored 19 points for Jerusalem. The visitors had held a five-point lead (75-50) going into the last two minutes, but could not hold on and Jerusalem's Moran Rot put his team 76-75 up with a minute to go. Lewis attempted a buzzer-beating three-point attempt right at the end, but it was not to be for Nahariya. In Holon, Danny Franco's home side was the better team for the majority of its encounter, only to apparently give up with a quarter to play. After Deron Washington put in a virtuoso performance for the first three periods, he couldn't buy a basket towards the end. At one point in the final period, Holon had not scored a basket for four minutes and the 66-56 lead it had built in the third quarter fell away towards the end. Galil's Gal Mekel, whose three-pointer gave his team the lead at 68-67 with 5:33 left in the final quarter, was suitably delighted with the result. "I am very happy with this victory. It is important to win here," he said, before noting that there are many more games to play. "It is a long series. Holon is very dangerous and there is a long way to go." Meanwhile, two relegation playoff games were also played on Sunday, with Iron Ramat Gan beating Ironi Kiryat Ata 83-76 and Maccabi Rishon Lezion winning at Maccabi Givat Shmuel 72-62. The two teams which lose their best-of-five series will be relegated to the National League.