Blue-and-white breaks the goose-egg

Israel notches its first victory with 91-88 squeaker over Latvia; too little, too late.

By
September 4, 2011 23:44
3 minute read.
Tal Burstein

Tal Burstein 311. (photo credit: Adi Avishai)

Israel claimed its first EuroBasket victory since 2007 on Sunday, defeating Latvia 91-88 in Siauliai, Lithuania to improve to 1-3 in Group B.

Despite the win, the national team will still be leaving Lithuania after it completes its group games against Italy on Monday, but it at least will be doing so knowing that it managed to avoid the whitewash it experienced at the last European Championships two years ago.

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The blue-and-white ended the 2007 EuroBasket tournament with an 0-3 record, the first time it has finished the event without a victory in 25 appearances.

Three consecutive defeats in Siauliai ended Israel’s hopes of advancing to the top 12 and took its losing streak in the competition to six games, but Arik Shivek’s side at least showed some pride on Sunday and all but ensured that it will not finish the championships bottom of Group B.

“We played for our pride,” said Lior Eliyahu, who led Israel with 26 points and 10 rebounds.

“This win is no consolation, but I hope we can also beat Italy. We feel that we were drawn into a very tough group with teams that will make it very far in the tournament. Latvia isn’t Serbia, France or Germany. This win releases some pressure and now we want to put on a good performance against Italy.”

Guy Pnini added 12 points and David Blu scored 11 for Israel, which for the first time in Lithuania actually won the battle under the baskets, outrebounding Latvia 42-37.

Janis Bhums had 27 points for Latvia, which dropped to 0-4 on Sunday.

Israel got off to a quick start, opening a 7-0 lead after a Blu jumper just 90 seconds into the encounter.

The Latvians replied with an 8-0 run to move in front, but the blueand- white had the edge after 10 minutes, leading 23-22.

There was little to separate the teams in the second period, with a Yaniv Green basket giving Shivek’s men a 47-45 advantage at the break.

Israel led for almost the entire third quarter, but a Blums three with 27 seconds remaining ensured Latvia took a 67-66 advantage into the final 10 minutes.

However, an Eliyahu basket midway through the final frame gave Israel a five-point cushion (77-72), only for Janis Strelneiks to tie the score at 83- 83 with 2:26 to play.

But Israel wouldn’t be denied, with a Pnini three opening an 89-84 lead with 18 seconds to play and Gal Mekel clinching the win from the free-throw line after Strelneiks missed a chance to tie the score from the charity stripe with six seconds remaining.

“It was important for us to get this win,” Mekel said. “It is difficult for me to come off the bench in the fourth period, but I’m always ready and I’m happy it turned out well.”

Earlier in the day, Omri Casspi, who missed the tournament through a knee injury, attacked former Israel coach Arie Meliniak for the criticism he leveled at him in an article in Yediot Aharonoth on Sunday.

“From the moment I was injured I underwent daily treatment on my knee so that I could come back to play for the national team.

“I couldn’t find one physiotherapist or doctor that would give me permission to play in my current state. How could I help Israel if I can’t run or jump?,” Casspi wrote on his Facebook page after Meliniak claimed that the Cleveland Cavaliers forward could have played for the national team had he really wanted to.

“I’ve been playing for the different national teams since the age of 14.

“If I didn’t want to go to Lithuania I would have said so. Everyone knows how important the national team is to me and how much I wanted to play.”

Coach Shivek tried to douse the flames after Sunday’s game.

“I spoke to Omri and I understood from him that he was offended by what was said about him,” Shivek said.

“Casspi was on the national team before Arik Shivek and he will be here after him. Omri felt he was injured and that he couldn’t give his all so you have to respect that.”


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