Triumphant Hapoel J'lem opens Eurocup campaign

Triumphant Hapoel Jlem

Hapoel Jerusalem had some tense moments in its 89-76 Eurocup opening victory over Lithuanian club Siauliai at Malha on Tuesday. But a strong finishing run ensured the Israelis came out of its first game of the European season unscathed, stretching the lead in the final moments after the visitors had cut it to only two points towards the end of the third period. Tre Simmons and Dijon Thompson both scored 19 points for the hosts, while Kevinn Pinkney added 15 and seven rebounds. Hapoel coach Goodes was satisfied with the performance, especially after the BSL loss in Netanya on Saturday. "We showed our form as a team, even with all the pressure we were under after the loss in Netanya," he said. "It was a good defensive game for us. It is important for us to continue like this." The visitors began terribly, but fought back in the second half only to throw away its chances to win. "We missed the aggression in offense," Siauliai coach Antanas Sireika said. "We made a lot of turnovers and we didn't play tough enough." After Tuesday's performance, Jerusalem will not be relishing its next Eurocup game, away to Greece's Aris Thessaloniki next week. The game began in a somewhat sloppy fashion by both teams. With a few minutes gone and the scores tied at 4-4, Leo Lyons attempted a childish pass down the court to Pinkney which was easily intercepted before Raitis Grafs missed an open three-point attempt at the other end. However, the Israelis slowly began to get their act together. A super alley-oop pass from Tre Simmons to Lyons put Hapoel up 12-9 with four minutes left in the first quarter, while Siauliai's poor shooting was killing the club on offense. Jerusalem capitalized on its opponent's inability to put the ball in the bucket, going on a 10-0 run which put it in the driver's seat. The hosts led 20-13 at the end of the first quarter, and although the Lithuanians didn't show any signs of giving up, Hapoel held tight in the second frame to maintain its advantage. As has been the case for much of the season so far, Simmons's dominance emerged as the game progressed, while Uri Kukia was impressing with his neat play in the paint. A Yuval Naimi three-pointer midway through the quarter put Jerusalem ahead 35-24, but the hosts took their eye off the prize for a few moments and let the visiting team back in. Goodes called a time-out when the advantage was cut to six points (37-31) and the pep talk seemed to work; by half time Hapoel had stretched the lead back to 10 points (41-31). The Israelis began the third well, but began slipping again. With the score standing at 49-43, Goodes brought his team back to the sideline. The coach initially appeared to have inject some verve into his players who battled back, but then the home team let the lead fall away once again. Two free throws by Gediminas Orelik put Siauliu just two points away from tying the game at 59. But immediately after, Brandon Hunter was cool at the line for Jerusalem to ensure the hosts took a five-point lead into the final frame (62-57). It wasn't easy for Hapoel, but the team in red stamped its authority on the final stanza, entering the final five minutes ten points ahead (73-63). The crowd finally found its voice in the last two and a half minutes when Dijon Thompson put his team 83-71 up with a classy alley-oop, essentially clinching the win.