Israel falls short against Portugal in Euro qualifier
National basketball team fails to rebound from disappointing loss to Macedonia earlier, losing 67-61 Wednesday.
By SHARON SOLOMON
The national basketball team failed to rebound from its disappointing loss to Macedonia earlier this week, losing 67-61 to Portugal in a crucial Eurobasket qualifier Wednesday night.
Zvika Sherf's squad "hosted" Portugal at Sofia, Bulgaria, with some 200 spectators in attendance, and produced a lackluster effort. The defeat in the third game of its Eurobasket 2007 qualifying campaign means Israel must win in all of its remaining games to have a chance of qualifying directly from the group.
It was a "painful and infuriating loss," Sherf said.
"We had the lead in most parts of the game," he added. "The lead was small, but we made a good defensive effort. Unfortunately the players, except Yaniv Green, didn't show up for the second half and our bad decisions led to the loss."
American import and leading scorer Jamie Arnold made a strong start, providing a commanding presence under the boards.
The Maccabi Tel Aviv forward also forced Carlos Andrade's third personal foul midway through the first quarter, which cut short the Portuguese rotation.
Portugal overcame an 8-2 Israeli run in the initial stages of the game and, despite starting guard Filipe De Silva collecting his second foul in the opening minutes, took a 19-17 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Sherf switched to a short line-up at the start of the second period, which caught the Portuguese off guard. Dror Hajaj and Amit Tamir made long shots for a 6-0 run.
But Portuguese center Elvis Evora was impressive off the bench and punished the sloppy Israeli defense, scoring seven points in the dying minutes of the second quarter.
Sharon Sasson made just one of his five attempts from three-point range.
Israel led 36-35 at the half.
Yotam Halperin overcame a weak first half and connected repeatedly with his trademark mid-range jumper, leading the Israeli attack in the third period.
Big man Paulo Cunha was struck in the face and had to be taken to the locker room for treatment, but not before scoring 14 points.
After scoring 19 points in a physical third quarter, Israel continued its dismal shooting display and failed to build on its lead.
The game was closely contested in the final period with changing fortunes.
Benfica swingman Miguel Minhava and Joao Santos made two crucial three-pointers to erase the Israeli lead and put Portugal on top 63-61 with just 29 seconds left on the clock. Arnold committed a crucial turnover, and Sherf took a quick time-out.
Minhava was fouled and sent to the line. The sharpshooter made both of his free throws. He then forced Halperin's sixth turnover, giving his team another easy layup and a dramatic "away" victory.
Yaniv Green was the leading performer for Israel team with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Halperin had 16 points.
Cunha returned for the final minutes and scored a game-high 17 points. Minhava finished with 11 points, including some crucial lastquarter baskets.
The national team faces Bosnia on Saturday in an away game that it needs to win to have any chance of qualifying for Eurobasket 2007 from the group stage.
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