Israel tops Serbs to inch closer to redemption

Casspi leads blue-and-white to third-straight victory after disappointing start to EuroBasket 2013 campaign.

CASSPI scores against Serbia 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
CASSPI scores against Serbia 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israel’s hopes of qualifying for EuroBasket 2013 received a massive boost on Tuesday night when the national team recorded an extremely impressive 89-76 victory over Serbia at Nokia Arena to improve to 3- 2 in Group A.
The blue-and-white was licking its wounds after beginning the 10-game campaign with two consecutive defeats, but it rebounded with two straight road wins over the weak Iceland and Slovakia and made a real statement on Tuesday with an emphatic victory over what was regarded as the strongest side in the group.
Israel surged to a double-digit lead in the first quarter and remained in control until the final buzzer, playing superbly on offense and even out-rebounding the vastly taller Serbs (40-35).
As important as Tuesday’s win was, Israel faces another make-or-break showdown on Thursday when it hosts Montenegro.
The Montenegrins bring a perfect 5- 0 record to the game and beat Israel 75-69 when the teams met in their first encounter of the campaign.
“You have to bring something extra to a game like this,” said Israel coach Arik Shivek.
“We saw things tonight which we have not seen in training. To beat a team like Serbia you have to play this way.
“We have one big blemish in our campaign which is the home defeat to Estonia and in order to erase it we will need to beat Montenegro on Thursday and win in Estonia on Sunday.”
Omri Casspi excelled for the blue-and- white once more on Tuesday, scoring 23 points, grabbing seven rebounds and registering four assists.
Yogev Ohayon was arguably even better, contributing 19 points and seven rebounds while orchestrating Israel’s play to perfection.
The Serbs also had no answer to Lior Eliyahu, who scored 22 points and had five blocks, with Alex Tyus adding 12 points and seven rebounds.
“This is a good result for us and I hope we can continue this way against Montenegro,” said Eliyahu.
“This win puts our campaign back on track, but we can still lose a game and that would set us back.”
Milos Teodosic and Zoran Erceg scored 10 points each for Serbia, which dropped to 3-2 and finds itself in real trouble.
Casspi was unstoppable in the first quarter and after a tight start to the game, Israel raced ahead in the final six minutes of the frame.
Casspi’s 13th point of the period capped a 15-0 run (23-8) and Israel held a double-figure gap (25-15) after 10 minutes.
The Serbs threw everything at Israel in an attempt to close the margin, but they could not make any real inroads and Guy Pnini’s three-pointer as the first half buzzer sounded maintained the 10-point cushion (48-38).
Israel still held a 65-56 lead with 10 minutes remaining, but Ivan Paunic’s basket brought Serbia within five points early in the fourth frame.
But the blue-and-white went on to score 10 of the next 13 points, with Ohayon’s long-range jumper, which was working beautifully all night, giving the hosts a 13-point gap (79-66) with three minutes to play from which there was no return.