Tale of two games for pair of Israel’s Reds

Jerusalem fans attacked in Athens arena during Hapoel’s BCL loss • Hap TA advances in EuroCup

SPEEDY SMITH and Hapoel Jerusalem were tripped up 94-78 this week by AEK Athens in a volatile Game 2 of their best-of-three Champions League playoff series. (photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)
SPEEDY SMITH and Hapoel Jerusalem were tripped up 94-78 this week by AEK Athens in a volatile Game 2 of their best-of-three Champions League playoff series.
(photo credit: FIBA/COURTESY)

Israeli teams were in European action as the Passover holiday came to an end with mixed results on the court.

Hapoel Jerusalem not only lost 94-78 at AEK in Athens, but some disturbing off-court incidents with the fans grabbed the headlines as their Basketball Champions League quarterfinals series is now tied up at 1-1, with the decisive Game 3 taking place back in Israel next week.

On the positive side, Hapoel Tel Aviv knocked off Reyer Venezia 90-80 in their EuroCup round-of-16 game that sent the Reds to the quarterfinals.

Hapoel Jerusalem’s 16-point loss to AEK Athens in Game 2 of their BCL series was overshadowed by the unfortunate scenes that occurred in the stands of Ano Liosia Olympic Hall as AEK fans burned Israeli flags, threw rocks and fireworks at the Jerusalem supporters and saluted imprisoned PLO terrorist Marwan Barghouti.

Eyal Chomsky, who is part of the Hapoel Jerusalem ownership group, spoke about the incidents that took place following the game.

 Tomer Ginat and Hapoel Tel Aviv beat Reyer Venezia 90-80 to advance to the EuroCup quarterfinals. (credit: DANNY MARON) Tomer Ginat and Hapoel Tel Aviv beat Reyer Venezia 90-80 to advance to the EuroCup quarterfinals. (credit: DANNY MARON)

“We just went through a rough, rough night. I was with you in the stands and saw how mothers protected their children who were in trauma. Rocks were thrown at us and it could have ended worse. 

Fireworks were thrown at us and they could have burned people. 

“I spoke to the FIBA management and the referees and I understood that the best way to proceed and avoid people losing their lives in this pogrom was to continue to play. If the game would have stopped, Greek security personnel who are very weak told me that the AEK fans would run into our area of the arena and this could have turned into a catastrophe. It was clear from the tipoff that when the rocks and fireworks started being thrown at us that there was no value in the game, but for me what was important was that everyone would get out safely from this horrible place.”

Jerusalem announced its intention to file a formal complaint with FIBA.

“Hapoel views the difficult events in Athens as nothing less than a terrorist attack on the Israeli fans, who traveled in a large group to support their team, as they have been doing for years,” noted Hapoel addressing the fans.

“Reacting to these events, we reviewed all options in halftime. Removing the Hapoel fans was ruled out due to the fact that Greek fans surrounded them. Also, the police assured us the gym would be cleared following another violent incident,” added the Israeli club, “Hapoel appreciates and supports every fan supporting the team in such difficult conditions and we regret the traumatic experience forced on our dedicated fans. The club will not remain indifferent. We will file a complaint.”

On the court, Bryton Lemar found the basket early and often while Levi Randolph tried to keep Aleksandar Dzikic’s squad in the game. But Akil Mitchell and Isaiah Miles who both had previously played in Israel came up strong in the second half to help the hosts take the win and send the best-of-three series back to the Holy Land.

Lemar led the way with 24 points Mitchell added 14 points and Miles chipped in with 13 points in the win while Randolph paced Jerusalem with 28 points in the loss.

“We can pretend that [what occurred] off the court didn’t project on the court,” Dzkic began. “Yes, we didn’t play as well, in the moment when everything started, it wasn’t like we were not playing well. We reacted the way we reacted and now we know what we need to do in the next game, it’s as simple as that. I am so sorry our fans had to go through that but it happened. We can pretend it never happened but that’s not true.”

Jerusalem captain Itay Segev also spoke about the incidents in the stands and the game itself.

"Our fans went through something horrible."

Itay Segev, captain 

“Our fans went through something horrible. Our hearts are with them and we appreciate all of them who spent time and money to be here with us, it helped us a lot and I hope they never have to go through that again. On the court, AEK were aggressive and tough and we couldn’t play well throughout the game. We have our third game at home with our fans and I call on everyone to come out and support us.”

Meanwhile, Hapoel Tel Aviv defeated Venezia to advance to the EuroCup quarterfinals, where they will face Joventut Badalona next week just outside of Barcelona for the right to head to the Final Four of the continental competition.

The TA Reds, who had six players in double figures, came out flying in front of their home fans at a packed Drive-In Arena and quickly put their mark on the game. Danny Franco’s squad saw J’Covan Brown and Xavier Munford lead the way in the first quarter while captain Bar Timor had the hot hand in the second period as Hapoel went on an 18-0 run to head into halftime up 48-32.

Tomer Ginat couldn’t miss in the third quarter as the Reds headed into the final frame with a commanding 77-55 advantage. However, Amedeo Tessitori, Jayson Granger, and Derek Willis cut down the lead to just 80-75 late in the final frame, before a couple of Chinanu Onuaku dunks along with baskets by Brown and Munford closed out the victory. Timor and Munfrod each scored 13 points, Brown added 12 points and Onuaku chipped in with 11 points in the win. Granger with 18 points and Willis with 16 points paced Neven Spahija’s team in the loss. “We were all very excited to play against a team like Venice – with a lot of tradition, veteran players, and a great coach like Neven,” Franco began. “I am happy with the way we reacted, we were a bit nervous in the beginning but we came out of it extremely well. A lot of guys contributed, coming off the bench, it was really a team effort. In an atmosphere like that, I am really proud of my team.” “I would like to congratulate Hapoel for playing amazing basketball, they were the better team and they deserved to win,” Spahija said. “They’ve played amazing basketball all season and I hope they can go all the way. We didn’t play good basketball today for most of the game. I regret that we were not more consistent and realize that we couldn’t make open shots. We needed to play inside more because a serious team can’t afford to take 36 shots from three-point range and just 22 from two-point territory. Basketball is about balancing the inside and the outside game.” 

Timor also reflected on the game.

“We were aggressive on the ball and when they missed their shots we just ran in transition. We also stole some balls and scored a bunch of easy buckets. The fans here always are getting better and better and it’s the loudest that it’s ever been here. As for Badalona, we will go there with the goal to win. We have faith in ourselves and I’m sure fans will come to support us there as well. Three wins to go, but we have to take it one game at a time.”