Three days after recording its biggest win ever over Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem looks to set another landmark in an increasingly impressive season when it visits Nizhny Novgorod in Russia in the second leg of the Eurocup quarterfinals.
Jerusalem crushed Maccabi by 28 points (93-65) on Sunday to leapfrog the yellowand- blue into first place in the BSL standings, eclipsing its 27-point victory over Tel Aviv at Malha Arena 22 years ago.
After allowing 93.5 points per game in four defeats over five games in all competitions, Hapoel has rediscovered its top form in the past two weeks.
Brad Greenberg’s team advanced to the Eurocup quarterfinals with an 81-65 victory over Ulm and beat Novgorod 81-78 in the first leg of the last eight last week. Jerusalem also thrashed Maccabi Haifa by 25 points in the BSL last week before humiliating Tel Aviv on Sunday.
All in all, over its past four games in all competitions, Jerusalem has held its opponents to just 67 points per game. Hapoel will have to be at its defensive best yet again to have a chance to overcome Novgorod on Wednesday and reach the Eurocup semifinals for the first time since 2006.
Novgorod held the lead for much of the first leg at Malha, with a Yotam Halperin three-pointer at the buzzer ultimately giving the hosts a slender win.
No more than six points separated Hapoel and Nizhny throughout the first leg and the Russians will be confident of erasing the deficit and progressing to the semis on Wednesday.
Novgorod has won eight of nine home contests in the Eurocup this season, including a 24-point triumph over Besiktas two weeks ago to erase a 17-point first leg defeat in the last 16.
“The result of the first leg leaves us with a good chance in Russia,” said Novgorod coach Zoran Lukic. “We carried out our game plan as we wanted, but made a few mistakes that cost us the game.”
Halperin is playing arguably his best basketball in years in the last two weeks.
He scored 20 points in the first half against Maccabi to effectively clinch the win by the break, while registering 17 points, including the winning three, and seven assists in the first leg against Novgorod.
“We are facing a super good and super coached team,” said Halperin. “We have a three point lead, but it is essentially irrelevant. The game can unfold in several ways and I hope we manage to execute our game plan successfully.”
Coach Greenberg is certain that Sunday’s win won’t go to his players’ heads, but is nevertheless expecting an extremely difficult game in Russia.
“Novgorod is a very strong team and we realize it will be quite a challenge to hold them off in Russia,” Greenberg said. “But we embrace the opportunity. It will require us playing our best all-around road game of the year. We played superbly against Maccabi, but we have already put that win behind us.”
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