Hapoel Jerusalem 298.88.
(photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole)
Hapoel Jerusalem will look to make history as the first team to reach the ULEB Cup final twice when it faces Dynamo Moscow in the Russian capital on Tuesday night.
Hapoel takes a one-point deficit into the game after losing 84-83 last week in Malha, meaning it must win by at least one basket to advance to the title game against either Aris Thessalon ki of Greece or Serbian side Hemofarm Vrsac. The final is scheduled for April 11 at the Spiroudome in Charleroi, Belgium. A Hapoel win by one point will send the game into overtime, while a tie or a Dynamo victory would send the Russians to the final.
Jerusalem has made this game its sole focus since losing to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the State Cup final over two weeks ago. The team's BSL game scheduled for Sunday against Maccabi Tel Aviv was postponed till next month, allowing Erez Edelstein's charges to arrive in snowy Moscow two days before the game.
Hapoel learned from the first game that it can compete with Dynamo at full strength, but it still has plenty to overcome. Dynamo crushed Hapoel 86-68 when these teams met in a regular-season game in Moscow in November. Although Hapoel won the return leg at Malha 87-83, the Russians showed up for that game without center Lazaros Papadopoulus, who's a major factor in their game plan. The 2.10-meter Greek went for 25 points on 8-of-10 shooting and eight rebounds last week, but perhaps more importantly drew 10 fouls and kept the Jerusalem big men in limbo on defense all night.
Dynamo's other stars last week were Greek forward Antonios Fotsis with 21 points and American point guard Mire Chatman with 23 points and eight rebounds. Shooting guard Ruben Douglas, who scored 19 when Dynamo won in November, went 0-for-11 from the field in Malha, something that Hapoel knows is unlikely to happen again.
The situation was similar for the hosts, who got big games from three players as Horace Jenkins scored 24, Mario Austin tallied 21 points and a ULEB Cup elimination-round record 17 rebounds, and Roger Mason Jr. shot his way to 19. But captain Meir Tapiro wasn't effective in his role as the joker off the bench, finishing with nine points on 2-of-8 shooting and just two assists in 22 minutes.
"This game is obviously our biggest challenge," Tapiro told the team's official Web site after Monday's practice. "Dynamo is an excellent team... I believe in our guys that they'll know how to come out, help one another and win this game."
Although stopping Papadopoulus is key to Hapoel's chances, the most important matchup will be the head-to-head battle of point guards Jenkins and Chatman.
"I think the best defense will win the series, so we just have to go out and play our game to make it to the championship final," Chatman told the ULEB Cup Web site this week.
Dynamo has won its last 11 ULEB Cup home games, dating back to November 2004 against the Bulgarian champs, Lukoil Academic Sophia. Hapoel learned earlier that year that it takes big games at home and away to win European titles as it went all the way to lift the 2004 ULEB Cup. Although only two players remain from that team - starting power forward Ido Kozikaro and reserve guard Raviv Limonad - everyone involved knows that a win would not only give Hapoel a shot at a second title but a chance to make this team a dynasty.