Thursday night was one of mixed emotions for Israel’s national basketball teams
in EuroBasket 2011 qualifiers.
The men – playing their last qualifier at
Nokia Arena – took their biggest step yet towards qualifying, downing Finland
A few hours earlier and a few kilometers northeast, the women
could have secured their advancement but an 83-82 double-overtime loss to Latvia
means that their fate will be decided Sunday night at home against
f the men win on Sunday at Montenegro, they will finish at the
top of Group A. Although, even a loss – coupled with some help from
Group C – could still allow Arik Shivek’s men to advance as one of the
runners-up “We know we have a tough game ahead of us in Montenegro,”
“But we’re going to go there and play tough. That’s all I can
Lior Eliyahu registered a team-high 18 points and 13 rebounds for
Israel, which looked apprehensive in front of a raucous Nokia crowd,
Finland to open the game on a 12-2 run.
Nerves were harnessed into
positive energy, and Israel closed to 15-13 with three minutes left in
But the Finns got a series of calls to go their way down the
stretch, and led 22- 13 heading into the second.
within the span of one minute (the first two from Yotam Halperin, the
Tal Burstein) rejuvenated the blue-and-white’s stagnant offense.
bomb, coming with 5:15 left in the second, brought the hosts to within
The teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half, but Israel
looked noticeably tense, as their drive-and-dish game-plan was leading to
shots, but the ball simply wasn’t going in the basket.
They stayed close,
however, and trailed 33-32 at halftime.
Backup point guard Yogev Ohayon
provided a spark early in the third quarter, racking up four assists in a
The diminutive guard continued to penetrate effortlessly on
offense and forced a few turnovers on defense, sparking the
blue-and-white to a
10-0 run in the quarter’s first three minutes, and Israel led
Finland responded with a 10-3 run of their own, led mostly by
Petri Virtanen’s touch from long range (the guard finished with 11
with three minutes to go, the hosts embarked on a blistering 19-5 run,
included two three-pointers each from David Bluthenthal and Yuval Naimi.
was fouled hard on his second, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
finished with 13 points – the most he’s scored in a qualifying
Israel stepped up its defensive intensity, and ended the quarter
staked to a 66-53 lead.
A Naimi blow-by to open the fourth quarter,
combined with the crowd’s energy, effectively informed the visitors that
Israel’s final period at Nokia would belong to the blue-and-white.
Finns’ offense remained potent, but Israel’s passing and speed ensured
victory would be a comfortable one.
Earlier Thursday in Ramat Gan, the
women found themselves locked in a furious battle with a Latvia team
beaten by five on the road only nine days earlier.
The blue-and-white had
a 56-47 lead with less than six minutes to play but went icy cold down
The Latvians went on a 12-0 run, and Israel needed a
three-pointer from Laine Selwyn just to force overtime at 59-59.
energy and swagger that paced them throughout regulation was lost in the
extra session, and they needed a three-pointer from Ekaterina Abramzon
seconds left to force another five minutes, tying the game at
Neither team could break away in the second overtime, but Israel
found itself down 82-78 with 20 seconds to go.
Abramzon broke free for
another threepointer, and a Selwyn steal, followed by a trip to the line
seconds left gave the hosts hope.
Selwyn split the free throws, tying
things at 82, but Elina Babinka was fouled by Meirav Dori with four
Babinka missed the first, but nailed the second, and Israel
couldn’t get a shot off as the buzzer sounded.
The women now need to win
their next game, at home against Romania on Sunday, to advance to