EuroBasket: Israeli men triumph, women fall in 2OT

Blue-and-white rolls over Finland; Latvia rallies to hand Doron and Co. must-win finale.

Blutenthal 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Blutenthal 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Thursday night was one of mixed emotions for Israel’s national basketball teams in EuroBasket 2011 qualifiers.
The men – playing their last qualifier at Nokia Arena – took their biggest step yet towards qualifying, downing Finland 85-71.
A few hours earlier and a few kilometers northeast, the women could have secured their advancement but an 83-82 double-overtime loss to Latvia means that their fate will be decided Sunday night at home against Romania.
f the men win on Sunday at Montenegro, they will finish at the top of Group A. Although, even a loss – coupled with some help from teams in Group C – could still allow Arik Shivek’s men to advance as one of the two best runners-up “We know we have a tough game ahead of us in Montenegro,” said Shivek.
“But we’re going to go there and play tough. That’s all I can say.”
Lior Eliyahu registered a team-high 18 points and 13 rebounds for Israel, which looked apprehensive in front of a raucous Nokia crowd, allowing Finland to open the game on a 12-2 run.
Nerves were harnessed into positive energy, and Israel closed to 15-13 with three minutes left in the first.
But the Finns got a series of calls to go their way down the stretch, and led 22- 13 heading into the second.
Three three-pointers within the span of one minute (the first two from Yotam Halperin, the third from Tal Burstein) rejuvenated the blue-and-white’s stagnant offense. Burstein’s bomb, coming with 5:15 left in the second, brought the hosts to within 27-26.
The teams traded baskets for the remainder of the half, but Israel looked noticeably tense, as their drive-and-dish game-plan was leading to good shots, but the ball simply wasn’t going in the basket.
They stayed close, however, and trailed 33-32 at halftime.
Backup point guard Yogev Ohayon provided a spark early in the third quarter, racking up four assists in a few minutes.
The diminutive guard continued to penetrate effortlessly on offense and forced a few turnovers on defense, sparking the blue-and-white to a 10-0 run in the quarter’s first three minutes, and Israel led 44-38.
Finland responded with a 10-3 run of their own, led mostly by Petri Virtanen’s touch from long range (the guard finished with 11 points.) But with three minutes to go, the hosts embarked on a blistering 19-5 run, which included two three-pointers each from David Bluthenthal and Yuval Naimi. Naimi was fouled hard on his second, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Naimi finished with 13 points – the most he’s scored in a qualifying game.
Israel stepped up its defensive intensity, and ended the quarter staked to a 66-53 lead.
A Naimi blow-by to open the fourth quarter, combined with the crowd’s energy, effectively informed the visitors that Israel’s final period at Nokia would belong to the blue-and-white.
The Finns’ offense remained potent, but Israel’s passing and speed ensured that the victory would be a comfortable one.
Earlier Thursday in Ramat Gan, the women found themselves locked in a furious battle with a Latvia team they had beaten by five on the road only nine days earlier.
The blue-and-white had a 56-47 lead with less than six minutes to play but went icy cold down the stretch.
The Latvians went on a 12-0 run, and Israel needed a three-pointer from Laine Selwyn just to force overtime at 59-59.
The energy and swagger that paced them throughout regulation was lost in the first extra session, and they needed a three-pointer from Ekaterina Abramzon with 18 seconds left to force another five minutes, tying the game at 67-67.
Neither team could break away in the second overtime, but Israel found itself down 82-78 with 20 seconds to go.
Abramzon broke free for another threepointer, and a Selwyn steal, followed by a trip to the line with 13 seconds left gave the hosts hope.
Selwyn split the free throws, tying things at 82, but Elina Babinka was fouled by Meirav Dori with four seconds left.
Babinka missed the first, but nailed the second, and Israel couldn’t get a shot off as the buzzer sounded.
The women now need to win their next game, at home against Romania on Sunday, to advance to Poland.