Israel flounders in tight loss to Finland

Missed opportunities, careless fouls plague Shivek’s crew in Eurobasket qualifiers.

OMRI Casspi (photo credit: FIBA EUROPE Web site)
OMRI Casspi
(photo credit: FIBA EUROPE Web site)
Israel suffered a stunning setback in its EuroBasket 2011 qualifying campaign on Wednesday, falling 84-83 to Finland in Espoo.
The national team entered the game brimming with confidence after opening its campaign with two impressive victories over Italy and Latvia.
Arik Shivek’s side also led for most of Wednesday’s encounter, including by double-figures, but it allowed a mediocre Finland team back into the game time and again and ended up paying the ultimate price.
Israel was still in the driving seat with 20 seconds to play, leading by three points, but it went on to make every mistake possible and crashed to a painful defeat after Tal Burstein missed a shot at the buzzer.
“This isn’t what we expected from this game,” said Shivek, who will now have to lift his team ahead of its crucial game against the perfect Montenegro at Nokia Arena on Saturday.
“Whenever we led we stopped playing our team game and that eventually resulted in this disappointing defeat. We have a lot of work to do ahead of a must-win game on Saturday.
We need to lift our heads. This isn’t the time to cry over spilled milk.”
Yotam Halperin scored 18 points for Israel, which hit 20 of 44 from twopoint range.
Omri Casspi added 17 points and Lior Eliyahu and Guy Pnini scored 12 points each, but it was Israel’s defensive play which cost it the game.
Shawn Huff and Petri Virtanen led five Finland players in double-figures with 13 points each, with the hosts scoring 21 of 40 from inside the arc.
A Casspi three-pointer gave Israel an early five-point cushion (7-2) and another basket by Israel’s only NBA player opened a 17-9 lead with four minutes to play in the first period.
However, Israel lacked the composure it displayed in its first two qualifiers and Finland fought its way back into the game.
Finland’s star Teemu Rannikko failed to score in the first quarter and ended the game without a point, but a Tuukka Kotti’s basket to beat the first period buzzer brought the hosts within just four points (22-18).
Five straight points to start the second period gave the Fins their first lead of the night, but Israel quickly pulled ahead once more, with Raviv Limonad coming off the bench to make a significant contribution.
Limonad, who played just one minute in Israel’s first two qualifiers, hit five of five shots to score 10 points in eight minutes on court and he gave his team a 42-31 lead.
Once more, however, the hosts came right back and Israel was ahead by just four points (48-44) at the break.
The blue-and-white began the second half with a 7-0 run, capped by a Halperin three, and seemed to be cruising once more with an 11-point margin.
However, yet again the hosts erased a double-digit gap and took a 67-66 advantage into the final 10 minutes after a Tuomas Iisalo basket.
A Casspi triple with six minutes to play gave Israel a 76-72 lead, but that would prove to be the biggest margin either team would hold in the fourth period and the game would come down to the wire.
Gerald Lee’s dunk with three minutes to go tied the game at 78-78 and the pressure seemed to be getting to the visitors.
Halperin would hit a huge three with just over a minute to play (81-78), but Israel could not kill off the game and Finland would capitalize.
After Burstein turned the ball over from an inbounds pass, Lee hit two free-throws with nine seconds remaining and Finland had a onepoint lead. Burstein had another chance to win the game for the visitors, but he missed after driving to the basket and Israel dropped to a frustrating loss.