Israel basketball 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel was brought down to earth in painful fashion on Sunday evening, losing 94-85 to Portugal in the EuroBasket championships in Madrid.
The defeat all but ends the national team's hopes of reaching the quarterfinal stage of the European Championships. Israel must defeat host and world champion Spain on Tuesday night to have any chance of progressing to the last eight. However, even with an unlikely win in its final second round game it will need other results in Group E to go its way to finish in the top four of the group and qualify for the quarterfinals.
After two stunning victories against powerhouses Serbia and Croatia, Israel was a clear favorite to record its third consecutive win of the tournament against Portugal. However, for a third time in the last 12 months the supposedly inferior Portuguese outmuscled and outsmarted Israel and recorded their first win of the second round.
"I'm sad and so are my players," Israel coach Tzvika Sherf said after the game. "We must, however, admit that Portugal was the better side. They got off to a fantastic start and were faster and controlled the rebound. This is very frustrating because with all due respect to Portugal we should have won this game."
An exhausted Israel, which was playing its 13th game in the last 33 days, was run off the court by the speedy and well rested Portuguese, who led for the duration of the game.
Portugal raced to a 21-7 lead in the first seven minutes of the game and Israel unsuccessfully chased their opponents for the rest of the encounter. Lior Eliyahu led Israel with 29 points and nine rebounds, with Yotam Halperin adding 19 points. Yaniv Green, who averaged 21.5 points and 14 rebounds in Israel's victories over Serbia and Croatia, ran out of steam on Sunday, scoring just two points and grabbing three rebounds in 32 minutes on court.
Joao Gomes was Portugal's most impressive player, scoring 23 points and taking 11 rebounds.
Francisco Jordao added 20 points, with Filipe da Silva scoring 13 points and passing nine assists.
Two straight three pointers for Joao Santos capped an 8-0 Portugal run to open the game and gave the team a lead it would maintain throughout the game.
Five Halperin points cut the margin to three points (8-5), but the Portuguese went on a 13-2 run and took a commanding 14 point advantage (21-7).
Jordao tormented the Israeli defenders time and again and gave his team its biggest lead of the first half with his ninth point of the quarter (28-11) at the end of the first period.
After Guy Pnini reduced Israel's deficit to 14 points with a three pointer in the final seconds of the first quarter, Israel scored seven of the first nine points of the next period to close within nine points of their opponents (30-21).
The blue-and-white, however, failed to eat away at the margin and entered the interval down by 12 points (46-34). Matters could have been far worse for Israel had Eliyahu not come off the bench to score 13 points in the second quarter to keep his team within touching distance of Portugal.
Four straight points for Jordao to start the second half killed any hope Israel may have had of mounting a comebackÂº. Gomes extended his team's margin to 19 points (61-42) and Portugal led 65-48 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Two straight three pointers by Matan Naor brought Israel within just nine points of their opponents (73-64) and a Hajaj basket with two-and-a-half minutes to go cut the margin to eight.
It was, however, too late for Israel and Portugal clinched the victory with accurate free throw shooting in the final minutes of the game.