Haifa edges the defending champs 83-79 in a dramatic overtime finish
The Greens have seen their fair share of close games this season. This time, Maccabi Hunter Haifa earned their first overtime victory of the season in a thrilling 83-79 road win over Maccabi Rishon Lezion. The Greens improved to 10-11 on the season and lifted themselves up to sixth place in the jam-packed Winner League standings.
“We made some mistakes on the offensive side at the end and that’s why we didn’t close the game sooner, but I am happy that we showed the character to win it,” said coach Offer Rahimi after the game. “We have been more stable and have taken more responsibility, but I am disappointed that we have lost too many close games. I always believe in the players and I think we are working harder than the others and I hope that we will continue to build on this win.”
Despite a poor shooting night from the field (38.7%) by the Greens, they made the most of it by dishing out 21 assists to only 12 turnovers. Gregory Vargas paced Haifa with 18 points on 6-of-13 shooting from the field, 6 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals. Big man Kevinn Pinkney, who has continued to improve each game, dropped a season-high 15 points and 7 rebounds in the win. The Greens’ captain Oz Blayzer notched his third double-double of the season on 13 points and 11 rebounds to go along with 6 assists. Amit Simhon added 13 points and 4 rebounds and John DiBartolomeo chipped in 12 points in the victory.
“Both teams made some mistakes and could have won the game earlier, but I am glad that we made fewer mistakes at the end to win the game,” said Blayzer. “I think that the team has gone through some changes and we are finding our identity and the connection between us. I believe that we have the potential to finish higher in the standings.”
Without an injured Avi Ben-Chimol and Patrick Richard, Rishon’s offense came from Maalik Wayns and Charles Thomas who scored 15 points apiece. Shawn Dawson posted a double-double on 13 points and 10 rebounds, and big man Idan Zalmanson was effective inside, posting 11 points and 9 rebounds in the loss.
The contest was tight throughout as Haifa’s largest lead of the game was 11 points, 51-40, after a 15-5 run to start the third frame. However, every Haifa run was answered by Rishon, which went on their own 9-0 burst to trim the Green’s lead down to 51-49 after Zalmanson converted on a three-point play in the paint. Pinkney broke up the Haifa drought converting on a three-point play, and DiBartolomeo added a jumper at the buzzer to put Haifa up 59-56 at the end of the third quarter.
DiBartolomeo followed it up to start the fourth period with a bucket and Vargas added another one to put Haifa up 63-56. DiBartolomeo made a nice drive to the rim to put Haifa up 65-59, but Rishon mounted a comeback to knot the game at 65-65 at the 7:09 mark. Vargas put Haifa ahead briefly before Wayns’ converted on a bucket and the extra point to put Rishon ahead by one, 68-67, for the first time in the second half. Pinkney was fouled on the other end, sinking both from the line and Graves nailed a huge 3-pointer to put Haifa up 72-68 with 3:37 left in regulation. Rishon managed to climb all the way back with a 7-0 run to take a three-point edge, 75-72, after Thomas netted one of two from the line with 1:47 to go. Blayzer stepped up with a timely tip-in and drew the foul, making the extra point to knot the game at 75-75 with 1:04 on the clock.
A wild series ensued in the last minute of regulation which included a steal by Haifa, a Green turnover, a recovery of a loose ball by Vargas, a Simhon missed layup, and an unsuccessful offensive Rishon attempt. With 3.0 seconds left in regulation, Vargas had a chance to win the game after a timeout, but his 3-point attempt came up short as the game went into overtime.
Vargas made up for it with a quick steal and layup to give Haifa a 77-75 advantage in the extra period. Blayzer fed Pinkey under the basket who finished with a layup to go up four points, 79-75. However, Rishon cut it to one, 79-78, after a Dawson trey. Rishon picked up a technical but Vargas missed the free throw attempt. Pinkney broke up a pass which led to an outlet pass to Vargas who drew a foul. This time Vargas didn’t miss, netting both from the line to put Haifa up 81-78 with 5 seconds left in the extra period. The Greens made a quick foul on Thomas, who made one of two from the line. Rishon sent Vargas back to the line who buried both to seal the game at 83-79. The Greens will close out the second round with an important home game against Hapoel Eilat next Sunday.