Blue-and-white can’t keep pace with Poland

Avdija struggles as Israel drops to 2-1 at Eurobasket • Key games against Serbia, Czechs on tap.

 Picture of Israel's Nimrod Levi vs Poland. (photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)
Picture of Israel's Nimrod Levi vs Poland.
(photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)

Israel came up short on Monday afternoon, falling 85-76 to Poland to drop its Eurobasket group play record to 2-1, with Serbia coming up on Tuesday night.

The blue-and-white had trouble all game long stopping AJ Slaughter from the outside and Aleksandar Balcerowski on the inside as Igor Milicic’s squad was able to control the pace of play for the majority of the match to take the win.For Israel, Deni Avdija could not get anything going as he scored only three points in 27 minutes, but on the plus side Yovel Zoosman – who had been having a very difficult tournament – broke out for 18 points while hitting a quartet of three-pointers.

“We didn’t start well and were chasing after Poland all game long,” Israel coach Guy Goodes said. “We won only one quarter and we didn’t do a good job on Slaughter as he and [Mateusz] Ponitka scored 35 points. We scored well from deep, but fell short on defense and we have to work on that area.”

“We turned the energy around from the last game, going back on defense and containing the fast pace of Israel’s game,” said Milicic, Poland’s bench boss. “Both teams hit some tough shots and we had a secure lead. The players dove on the floor and went for every 50/50 ball which showed our heart.”

 WHILE STILL only 21, Deni Avdija has the presence of a grizzled veteran on the Israel National Team, which tips off its Eurobasket campaign this weekend (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN) WHILE STILL only 21, Deni Avdija has the presence of a grizzled veteran on the Israel National Team, which tips off its Eurobasket campaign this weekend (credit: YEHUDA HALICKMAN)

Zoosman also reflected on the loss. “We were one step behind all game and when we tried to come back we gave up quick baskets and we lost the momentum and positivity. They are a good team and we were missing that last step in this game.”

Polish forward Aaron Cel also spoke about the contest.

“This game was really important for us and we are very happy to win against a very good Israeli team. At some moments they made some good shots, but we didn’t let them come back. Each guy has to be ready to make their shots and help and today I was able to do so. Every game it may be another player as we stick together on both sides of the ball. I’m proud of our guys.”

Goodes’s squad will have two games remaining in Group D play. It will tip-off against Serbia on Tuesday night and then close out group play on Thursday against the host Czech Republic.

Four teams in each of the four groups of six will advance to the knockout stages in Berlin as Israel looks for one more win to ensure its participation. The knockout round will begin with the Round-of-16 and will then move onto the quarterfinals, from there all being one-game single elimination matches.

In all likelihood for Israel, the final game of the group stage against Czechia may be the decisive contest to see who gets the last spot to move onto Berlin. However, should the blue-and-whie finish in fourth place, its stay in Germany may be a very short one as it will match up with the first-place team in Group C, which will most probably be against NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece.

For Israel, Tuesday’s game against Serbia will be a difficult clash as Svetislav Pesic’s team is littered with NBA and Euroleague stars, from two-time MVP Nikola Jokic to Vasilije Micic, who stars for Anadolu EFES in Turkey.

On Monday, Zoosman led Israel with 18 points, Madar added 17 points and Tamir Blatt ended the game with 10 points in the loss. Slaughter paced Poland with 24 points, Balcerowski scored 17 points and Cel chipped in with nine points in the win.

Cel and Roman Sorkin traded inside buckets to open the contest, while Blatt hit from deep and Balcerowski scored with a turnaround basket in the paint and then hit from midrange as the sides found their groove.Nimrod Levi hit a corner three-ball to get the first quarter off to a blazing start with Israel taking a 10-9 lead midway through the stanza.

Michal Sokolowski nailed a pair of three-pointers as Israel’s Sorkin responded again in the paint. Then, Ponitka and Slaughter each scored layups, Tomer Ginat found points inside, Michal Michalak scored off a fast break and Madar hit his free-throws as Israel cut the Poland lead to 23-16 after 10 minutes of play.

Madar led the break for Israel to begin the second quarter and Blatt drained one from deep. After Ponitka scored in the lane, Madar came back with another deuce before Balcerowski put in an easy two to keep Poland in front 28-23 with 6:44 left in the first half.

Slaughter went from deep twice, Zoosman stole the ball and put in a layup while drilling a triple a few plays later. Ginat put the ball in off the glass while Gal Mekel scored as well, but Poland kept the lead (39-33) at halftime.

Balcerowski and Cel began the third quarter with points for Poland, while Zoosman, Jake Cohen and Blatt responded with three-pointers for Israel.

A Balcerowski three-point play kept Poland in the lead at 49-42 midway through the period. While Ginat had a nifty putback, Slaughter hit a pair of shots from downtown and Cel nailed a triple as the shot clock expired to give Poland a 14-point lead (58-44) with 4:14 left in the frame.

Madar went from beyond the arc and from within, Slaughter dialed up long distance yet again, Balcerowski scored in the paint and Michalak nailed a three-pointer as Milicic’s squad took a commanding 68-56 lead into the final frame.Zoosman, Avdija and Levi all checked in from deep to get the fourth quarter underway and cut the lead down to 70-65, but Balcerowski hit a wild three-pointer as the shot clock expired to keep the Israelis at bay.

Madar also dialed up from long distance to shave the gap to 73-68 with just over six minutes to go. However, Balcerowski then dunked, Slaughter went from downtown for the sixth time in the game and added a layup and Ponitka went from deep to extend Poland’s advantage back to double digits.

Zoosman scored a layup and added a triple but it was too little, too late as Israel will now turn its sights to Serbia.