What started out like a day at the beach for Hapoel Jerusalem turned into a hard night at the office, until mercurial guard Horace Jenkins clocked in with his best game of the season, hitting for 31 points to lift Hapoel to an 87-83 victory over Dynamo Moscow, and a place in the next round of the ULEB Cup.
The hard-fought victory, which began with Jerusalem racing to a 15-2 first quarter lead, lifted Hapoel's record in Group D to 6-3, assuring them of a spot in the round of 16. The capital city hoopsters will travel to Serbia-Montenegro next week knowing that a win against Crvena Zvezda Belgrade will guarantee them second place in the group and an easier team in the next round.
"We showed character and didn't crack," coach Erez Edelstein said of his charges. "Jenkins and Meir [Tapiro] are lethal together," he added.
Whether it was soaring in for an amazing offensive rebound basket in the first half, or taking an alley-oop feed from Tapiro early in the second, Jenkins was remarkable.
Coming to his aid was Tapiro, who had 14 points and five assists, Mario Austin, who was a big force early and contributed 17 and seven rebounds, and Erez Marckovitch, who played 17 gritty minutes and scored six of his own.
The Russians, playing without center Lazarus Papadopoulos and point guard Bojan Popovic, who didn't make the trip and could miss the rest of the season with injuries, never knew what hit them at the opening bell, as Jenkins and Roger Mason Jr. hit threes to propel Jerusalem to an amazing start.
But Dynamo isn't considered a legitimate threat to take the ULEB title for nothing. Relying on the scoring of guard Mire Chatman (26 points), the Russians got back in it with a 13-2 burst that brought them back to 17-15.
That's when Austin went to work, keeping Jerusalem comfortably in front, backed up by Marckovitch, who had a thunderous dunk as Hapoel overcame some sloppiness to go up 45-34 with 2:50 left in the half. A Tapiro trifecta and three-point play keyed a 16-4 run that sent Jerusalem to the locker room comfortably ahead, 51-38.
Jenkins, who was yanked a couple of times by Edelstein in the first half, when he committed four turnovers, started to take over with 6:50 left in the third. Soaring in from the right corner, he took the alley-oop pass and swooped over his Russian defenders for the score that had Hapoel fans singing a chorus of "Who is Solomon," a reference to former Jerusalem star Will Solomon, now with Maccabi Tel Aviv, and thanks to Jenkins, a distant memory.
The move was the encore to Jenkins's incredible offensive rebound hoop in the first half over a forest of taller Russians that also was one for the books.
But just when you thought you'd seen The Human Jitterbug do everything, he took a long rebound of a Tapiro rejected shot and hit a threepointer from near the half-court stripe as time expired in the third quarter, leaving Hapoel comfortably ahead, 72-63.
Nothing proved too comfortable against the deep, never-say-die Russians, Tuesday night, however. Behind Chatman's bobbing and weaving, the Group D leaders cut the lead to 74-71.
Then Jenkins showed who's boss at Malha. Rising up from the corners, the former Detroit Piston made like Chauncey Billups, hitting two threes as part of eight straight points, and Hapoel was back on top, 82-74.
But the Russians can shoot threes, too, as Greek forward Antonis Fotsis - who lost to Hapoel in the ULEB Cup championship game with Real Madrid in 2004 - hit a pair, as did Sergey Bykov, to keep them within five at 82-77.
Jenkins was then grabbed after taking a rebound and jetting upcourt and the Russians were whistled for an unsportsmanlike foul to boot. The determined Jenkins hit both shots, then hit yet another of his five threepointers for the evening to give Hapoel what looked like a certain 87-77 advantage with 3:50 to play.
But Moscow just wouldn't die. When Chatman stole the ball and scored with 1:40 left to make it 87-83, the sellout crowd shifted nervously in their seats, especially when Hanno Mottola went to the line with 1:11 to play. However, fortune was smiling on Jerusalem and Jenkins, as Mottola missed both shots.
Even Tamar Slay missing an easy lay-up at the end didn't cost them as the hosts hung on for the win, the crowd serenading their new hero and his club with "Jerusalem of Gold."
Jenkins ended up shooting 10-of-19 from the field overall, and 5-of-7 from three-point land, and had four rebounds, but most importantly, he only turned the ball over once in the second half. Jerusalem showed guts in crunch time, earning the right to go to the next round, whose match-ups will be determined in a lottery to be held on January 20 in Barcelona.