Israel taking nothing for granted vs Finns

Casspi and Co. off to great start in EuroBasket qualification amid tight Group A.

Yotam Halperin (photo credit: Israel Basketball Association)
Yotam Halperin
(photo credit: Israel Basketball Association)
Two down, six to go.
After claiming impressive victories in its first two EuroBasket 2011 qualifiers, Israel will look to extend its perfect start on Wednesday night and take another step towards a 10th straight qualification for the European Championships when it visits Finland in Espoo.
The national team trounced Latvia by 22 points at the Nokia Arena on Sunday, displaying the best of Israeli basketball.
Arik Shivek’s men not only scored 110 points, but did so while hitting 16 of 25 shots from three-point range and passing a massive 32 assists.
The blue-and-white ran at every chance, turning its lack of big men into an advantage to steamroll the poor Latvians.
On paper, the game in Finland should be no different, especially with the hosts still searching for their first win of the campaign.
However, Shivek is particularly wary of the Finns, believing from the start of the campaign that the encounter in Espoo could prove crucial to Israel’s qualification hopes.
“I said at my first press conference that we need to be especially careful in the games against Finland,” Shivek said.
“At the draw everyone talked about Italy and Montenegro and Latvia, but I said the game we need to watch out for the most and be ready for is Finland. We haven’t got time to make too many changes, but I trust my players to make the right adjustments.
“Finland beat France and Italy last year and it will be difficult to play at their home. They are tough and aggressive on defense and we must remember Israel has always struggled in road games.”
Shivek’s biggest concern ahead of Wednesday is the Fins three-point shooting. Finland attempted 23 triples in each of its qualifiers to date and after hitting only six shots in the home defeat to Montenegro, showed some improvement by dropping 13 efforts in the road loss to Italy.
Teemu Rannikko is the Fins danger man, averaging 23.5 points per game while scoring seven of 16 three-pointers so far.
“We had a very good game against Latvia and we need to prove on Wednesday that we are professionals who can remain consistent,” said Omri Casspi, who led Israel with 21 points on Sunday.
“I have no doubt Finland will throw everything at us and do everything to beat us after suffering two losses so far.
They will bring a lot of energy in front of their home fans, but we need to keep doing what we’re doing.”
Finland assistant coach Pekka Salminen knows Israel has a superior roster, but he is hoping the hosts can spring a surprise.
“Israel is an excellent team,” Salminen said. “They have very good offensive weapons and we saw that against Latvia. The key for us will be our defensive play.”
While Casspi and Yotam Halperin are making all the headlines, Tal Burstein’s contribution has gone almost unnoticed.
The veteran scored 14 points in a perfect shooting night against Latvia, but far more importantly he is the glue of the team, making those by his side play better as well.
“We really enjoyed ourselves against Latvia and I hope we continue this way,” Burstein said. “We are in a good position in the group and we must maintain the same level of composure for every game and every opponent.”