Hapoel Jerusalem coach Simone Pianigiani (right) and captain Yotam Halperin called on the team’s fans to pack the Jerusalem Arena tonight in Game 1 of the Eurocup quarterfinal series against Spain’s Gran Canaria. .
(photo credit: UDI ZITIAT)
Hapoel Jerusalem’s Eurocup aspirations face their sternest examination to date on Tuesday night when the team hosts Gran Canaria of Spain in Game 1 of the quarterfinals.
After reaching the last eight of the competition for just the second time in seven years, Hapoel is targeting a place in the semifinals for the first time since 2006.
By virtue of winning its Top 16 group with a 5-1 record, Jerusalem has home-court advantage in the best-of-three series, hosting the decider should it be required next Wednesday. Game 2 will take place in Gran Canaria on Friday.
After an excellent start to 2017, Jerusalem was rattled by three straight defeats over all competitions, including a loss to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the State Cup final.
It returned to winning ways just in time to pick up some much-needed confidence ahead of the series against Gran Canaria, snapping the losing streak with a victory over Maccabi Rishon Lezion in BSL action on Saturday.
Jerusalem did so without Amar’e Stoudemire, who was rested, as well as injured Israeli guard Bar Timor. Stoudemire will be back on Tuesday, but Timor is still out.
Despite only finishing its Top 16 group in second place, Gran Canaria is regarded as one of the favorites for the title. The Spaniards, who are coming off an impressive win over Real Madrid in local league action, lead the competition in performance index ranking and are also the Eurocup’s second-best scoring team (89.2 ppg), topping all teams in two-point shooting percentage (60.4%) while ranking third in assists (20.1 apg).
Kyle Kuric (15.9 ppg) leads Gran Canaria in scoring, followed by Bo McCalebb (10.7 ppg) and Royce O’Neale (10.6 ppg).
Gran Canaria was denied a place in last season’s Eurocup final only by an overtime defeat in the semis and Hapoel coach Simone Pianigiani is hoping his team’s lack of experience in the latter stages of the competition in recent years doesn’t prove costly.
“All the teams in the top eight are teams that usually play in the Euroleague or reach the late stages of the Eurocup,” said the Italian.
“For us this is something new, but it is owner Ori Allon’s vision that we want to be like these teams. We want to be here consistently every year.”
With Timor out injured once more, veteran Israeli guard Yotam Halperin could be called upon to play more minutes than usual.
“We have worked hard to get to this stage, but we face a very tough opponent,” said Halperin.
“This could prove to be a long and difficult series. They are very difficult to beat on the road so it is just as well that we have home-court advantage. We have come a long way and we don’t want to squander this opportunity.”