A work in progress became a masterpiece last night, as Hapoel Jerusalem coach Erez Edelstein used all the talents at his disposal to rout Red Star Belgrade 103-77, lifting the capital club to third place in the ULEB Cup Group D.
Behind the artistry of Meir Tapiro, who had 17 points and nine assists, Jerusalem played the kind of team game that everyone has been waiting for, providing an offensive explosion that blew them by their opponents in a 20-5 third quarter run that essentially iced the game.
Hapoel's team speed and stepped up defense was simply too much for their opponents, who wilted after narrowing the gap to 54-50.
That's when Edelstein's club regrouped behind Tapiro, Roger Mason Jr. and Ido Kozikaro and coasted to victory, making its ULEB Cup record 3-2 so far.
The outstanding team effort could be seen in the post-game stat sheet, with five Jerusalem players in double figures - Horace Jenkins leading the way in the first half and ending up with 21 points, Mason with 18, Mario Austin with 18 and Ido Kozikaro, in one of his best games of the year, adding 16 and seven rebounds.
Team president Arkady Gaydamak had to be pleased with the all-around hustle, from Masonâ€šs diving for loose balls, to Matan Naor taking charging fouls and swatting away shots, to reserve Itzik Ohanon contributing four points and three rebounds in important minutes off the bench.
It's hard to believe that the game was even close at any point, but despite the final outcome, there were some tense moments.
Led by the speeding Jenkins, Hapoel raced from an early 5-0 deficit to a 16-9 lead, beating Red Star to almost all loose balls and playing aggressive defense.
In fact, at least in the refsâ€š view, that defense was too aggressive and in a wave of whistles, Hapoel suddenly found itself in early foul trouble.
A total of 16 fouls were called on Jerusalem in the first half alone, and for a moment it seemed like Hanukka had arrived early, with the scoreboard alight with Hapoel fouls.
With both Mario Austin and Erez Markovich in early foul trouble, Jerusalem needed some help underneath. Enter Ohanon, who had limited minutes even after returning from playing college ball at the University of St. Louis.
Whether driving to the hoop, soaring for rebounds, or just fitting in nicely while his club ran the floor, Ohanon showed he can be an important part of this club, and helped anchor Hapoel.
Scoring himself or finding Kozikaro free underneath the hoop, Tapiro helped Hapoel run its opponent off the court. When Kozikaro completed a three-point play, Hapoel led 82-60, leading to a fourth quarter that was largely garbage time.
The big point differential is very important since it could be a factor down the stretch in determining which team advances to the next round. More importantly, however, Jerusalem showed last night that it is beginning to tap its immense potential as the players gradually grasp the art of team, not playground, basketball.
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