Greece brings Israel back down to earth

Blue-and-white falls to first defeat in World Cup qualifying after error-ridden display in Crete

Israel guard Tamir Blatt (right) scored 10 points in last night’s 82-61 defeat to Greece in Crete, but also committed five of the team’s 26 turnovers. (photo credit: FIBA WEBSITE)
Israel guard Tamir Blatt (right) scored 10 points in last night’s 82-61 defeat to Greece in Crete, but also committed five of the team’s 26 turnovers.
(photo credit: FIBA WEBSITE)
Israel was outplayed by an under-strength Greece team in Crete on Monday night, suffering a first blow in its quest to reach the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
The blue-and-white dropped to 1-1 in Group H, failing to build on the 88-68 win over Estonia in Tel Aviv on Friday.
Israel committed 17 turnovers in the first half alone, but was still very much in the game, trailing by five points at the break (37-32).
The visitors would come no closer though, with the Greeks dominating the second half. Oded Katash’s players limited their turnovers, registering nine more in the second half, but nevertheless struggled desperately on the offensive end. A nine-minute stretch in the third and fourth quarters during which the blue-and-white netted just 11 points to Greece’s 24 decided the encounter, allowing the hosts to open a 19-point margin (72-53) which Israel was never going to erase with five minutes to play.
Richard Howell led Israel with 13 points, with Tamir Blatt, Bar Timor and Jake Cohen each scoring 10 points.
After the prolific performance against Estonia, Israel’s players encountered a completely different level of defense, connecting on just 19-of-49 two-point shots (38.8%) and 4-of-18 from three (22.2%) Charis Giannopoulos had 14 points for Greece, which shot 22-of-39 from two-point range (56.4%).
Israel will resume its qualifying campaign on February 23 when it hosts Great Britain before visiting Estonia two days later. The first round of qualifying will run until July 2018, with the top three in the group to advance to the second round. The top three in the second round, which will be played between September 2018 and February 2019 and will be comprised of four groups of six teams, will secure a berth in the World Cup in China.
Israel will be hoping it doesn’t end up ruing Monday’s result against a second, even third-string, Greece team. The new format of qualification means most NBA and Euroleague players will only be available to play in games to be held during the off-season, leaving Greece without most of its top players.
Israel couldn’t take advantage though, something which could prove to be significant with all results from the first qualification round to be carried over to the second round.
“I was very happy with the past week,” said Katash, who returned to the arena in Heraklion in which he guided Israel’s under-20 national team to the European Championship final four months ago. “We have started something new. We built a young team with a very positive group of people and I really enjoyed coaching them.”
Katash believes that the inexperience of many of the team’s players ultimately cost the blue-and-white.
“In a way we lost the game in the first half. We executed well the defensive game plan, but turned the ball over a lot. We have got to learn from that,” explained Katash. “To play against Greece is always different because of there physical style. You have to come ready with a lot of experience so I’m happy with the experience the players gained and I’m sure we will learn from that. The best we can get out of this game is the experience.”