(photo credit: RBA/COURTESY)
Despite playing without captain Omri Casspi, Israel continued to build confidence ahead of next month’s EuroBasket tournament, registering its third straight tuneup win on Saturday with a 97-92 victory over Finland in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Due to NBA rules regarding the amount of days players can take part in national team activity, Golden State Warriors forward Casspi had to sit out the blue-and-white’s first game of the summer last weekend. He was the team’s top scorer with 16 points in its second win in 48 hours over Romania last Sunday, but didn’t travel to Russia after suffering from groin pain in training.
Israel managed without him on Saturday, with Lior Eliyahu leading the way after missing last weekend’s trip to Romania. Eliyahu finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Gal Mekel had 18 points and five assists, with Richard Howell adding 14 points and eight rebounds.
Israel scored the first nine points of the contest, but Finland was down by just four points (27-23) after 10 minutes and by eight points(53-45) at the break. Finland took its first lead of the night in the third quarter, but it was the blue-and-white which had an eight-point edge (74-66) with 10 minutes to play following Guy Pnini’s four-point play. A tight fourth quarter came down to the final minute, with a Mekel basket followed by Pnini freethrows securing Israel’s victory.
“I’m happy Lior is back. We saw how much he can contribute,” said Israel coach Erez Edelstein. “We ended the game with 31 assists and that shows that everyone wants to share the ball. Obviously we still have a lot to work on, especially on defense. But at this stage of the preparations, and with all the injuries we have had, this is more than I expected.”
Israel is playing without Karam Mashour after he was dropped from the roster last week. Mashour seemed set to become the first Israeli-Arab to play in an official international game for the blue-andwhite after a breakthrough season at Bnei Herzliya. But shortly before the roster first came together for training, he notified the Israel Basketball Association that he is being treated for a shoulder injury in the US and asked to join the team two weeks late. He was requested to return to Israel to be checked by an IBA doctor, but said his physicians objected, an explanation the IBA was unhappy with.
The national team will play 10 warm-up games in total ahead of the start of the European Championships, which will be held in Israel for the first time. The blue-and-white will face Italy, Lithuania, Germany, Georgia and Ukraine in Group B of EuroBasket 2017, with all the group games to take place at Yad Eliyahu Arena in Tel Aviv between August 31 and September 6.
“This was my first game with the team this summer and I think we played better team basketball,” said Eliyahu. “I really hope we can build on this form.”
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