Local hoops: Naimi's 3 at buzzer saves Hapoel

Basketball Super League

Yuval Naimi came to Hapoel Jerusalem's rescue once more on Sunday night, scoring a stunning buzzer-beating three-pointer to give his team a 90-88 victory over Bnei Hasharon at Malha Arena. Jerusalem led by as many as 18 points in the third period, but Bnei Hasharon never gave up the chase and seemed to have snatched the win in a dramatic final minute. Trailing 87-84 with seven seconds to play, Bnei Hasharon's Dori Assaf scored his first free-throw, and after missing the second on purpose, collected the rebound. The young playmaker then found Ori Itzhaki in the corner and the shooting-guard gave the visitors a stunning lead with 2.5 seconds to play after his three-point attempt hit the rim and bounced one meter up in the air before dropping in. Jerusalem had one more chance to salvage the win and Naimi proved yet again he is a true winner with a last-second three, which was helped in by the hand of Bnei Hasharon's Ugonna Onyekwe. "The game was all but over in the third quarter. I don't know why we do this to ourselves," said Naimi after saving Hapoel's blushes and snatching the win at the death. "We are masochists. I just hope we can win more easily in the future because my heart can't take it anymore." Naimi led five Jerusalem players in double-figures, scoring 16 points and passing seven assists. Sharon Sasson, Tre Simmons, Leo Lyons and Kevin Pinkney each added 13 points for Hapoel, which hit an excellent 26 of 40 from two-point range. Onyekwe had 22 points and eight rebounds for Bnei Hasharon, which also got 15 points from Shawn James. Elsewhere, Maccabi Tel Aviv moved top of the BSL standings with an 88-61 thrashing of Ironi Ramat Gan at the Nokia Arena. Despite a dismal first half, Tel Aviv was never in any danger of failing to maintain its perfect start to the season, and Ramat Gan has now lost its first four games of the campaign by an average 17 points. Chuck Eidson and Raviv Limonad each scored 14 points for Maccabi, with Julian Khazzouh leading Ramat Gan with 21 points and 11 rebounds. In other action, Maccabi Haifa returned to winning ways after a hard-fought 72-65 victory over Hapoel Holon. Haifa trailed by five points (34-29) at the break, but took a 16-point margin (59-43) into the fourth period after an excellent third quarter. Holon moved to within two points (61-59) in the closing stages, but the hosts held on for the vital confidence boosting win after last week's 35-point drubbing at the hands of Hapoel Galil/Gilboa. "Apart from the third quarter we did not play well," said Haifa coach Avi Ashkenazi. "The team is under a lot of pressure at the moment and we must calm the players down and continue to improve." Ben Strong had the best game of his BSL career, scoring 18 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Richard Roby added 15 points, with Ido Kozikaro contributing 13 points and 11 rebounds. Dwayne Mitchell scored 28 points for Holon, which fell to 0-4. Also Sunday, newly-promoted Batak Netanya suffered its first defeat of the season, losing 84-82 after overtime at Ironi Ashkelon. Brooks Sales scored 18 points and took 14 rebounds for Ashkelon, with Marco Killingsworth scoring 20 points for Netanya. Ironi Nahariya claimed its second straight win on Sunday, defeating Hapoel Afula 91-83. Paul Delaney and Shawn Taggart scored 22 points for the winners, with Justin Dentmon getting 23 points for the hosts. At Malha, Guy Dotan's three-pointer at the buzzer opened a 27-19 Hapoel lead after 10 minutes and seven straight points by Naimi extended Hapoel's advantage to 15 points (46-31) with two minutes to play in the first half. A 9-0 run capped by an Itzhaki three-pointer brought the visitors back within six points, but Naimi scored the last basket of the half and Hapoel led 48-40 at the break. Bnei Hasharon's Cookie Belcher and Jerusalem's Dijon Thompson were ejected at the start of the second half after clashing under the basket, but the momentum remained squarely with Hapoel and the hosts raced to a 61-43 margin. Simmons' basket to end the third period made sure Jerusalem took a comfortable lead into the final 10 minutes (72-59), but Bnei Hasharon never gave up. The visitors ate away at the gap as the fourth quarter progressed, and two straight Onyekwe threes cut the lead to five points (84-79). A James three-point play soon after brought Bnei Hasharon within one possession (84-82), but the visitors failed to complete the comeback on a couple of occasions. Simmons made them pay with a three at the other end, but Bnei Hasharon continued to fight and set-up a scintillating finish to the game, only for Naimi's heroics to decide the encounter at the buzzer.