|Gal Mekel and Maccabi Haifa stunned Israel by beating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final|
Maccabi Haifa stunned Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv on Thursday night with an 86-79 win in the single-game final of the Israeli Winner League in Jerusalem, to win the first championship title in their history.
The Tel Aviv powerhouse, who have captured an unassailable 50 league titles, failed to be proclaimed champions in their country for only the fourth time in the last 45 years.
Israeli international Gal Mekel and Greek forward Pat Calathes, brother of the Hellenic national team point guard Nick, delivered sublime performances to guide the Haifa side to the historic success.
Calathes collected a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds, while Mekel finished with 21 points, seven assists and three steals.
Tel Aviv's Ricky Hickman led all scorers with 28 points and Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu had 10 points and five rebounds in losing efforts.
Haifa were just one point behind David Blatt's team at the end of a high-scoring first quarter but scored only 13 points in the second frame and went into the half-time interval trailing 42-37.
But rather than accept what every spectator thought was their unavoidable fate, Haifa came back from the locker rooms determined to make a stand and reduced the gap to just one point again, 58-57, at the end of the third frame.
The underdogs kept firing on all cylinders to pull ahead early in the final stanza and took their first comfortable lead in the encounter, 72-66, approximately five minutes before the final buzzer.
The shell-shocked Tel Aviv tried to react and restore order but were not able to come any closer, as Haifa had saved their best for the clutch and scored 29 points in the final quarter.
Haifa's accomplishment is even more impressive if one considers that they came quite close to not even reaching the final.
The eventual champions finished tied second in the Regular Season and while they took a 2-0 lead over Hapoel Eilat in their play-off semi-final series, they then lost the following two games and only sneaked into the final after edging out their opponents 71-68 in a dramatic decider at home.
Maccabi Tel Aviv meanwhile, as is almost customary, had topped the Regular Season standings and swept Hapoel Tel Aviv 3-0 in the quarter-finals and Hapoel Jerusalem in the semi-final series, with the same score.