Hapoel Jerusalem advanced to the Winner Cup semifinals thanks to a 78-74 win over Hapoel Eilat in Rishon Le’Zion. J’Covan Brown led Jerusalem with 15 points and 6 assists, Josh Owens added 14 points and 7 boards, Bar Timor dropped 13 points while Tamir Blatt had 7 points and 7 assists. Lenzelle Smith Jr. led Eilat with 28 points and 8 rebounds as Elijah Bryant added 19 points and 9 boards in the loss.
Eilat came out of the gates on fire thanks to Elijah Bryant’s 10 points but it didn’t take long for Jerusalem to cut the early lead as the first frame ended 20-17 in favor of the resort side. With a Amare Stoudemire back for the Reds, his 6 points helped give Oded Katash’s squad a 4 point, 42-38 advantage after twenty minutes. With Jerusalem nursing a slim 1-point 46-45 lead with 4:02 left in the 3rd quarter, J’Covan Brown entered the contest and the Reds never looked back. Brown, who starred last season at Gilboa/Galil rattled off 11 points and dished out a pair of assists including one to Bar Timor in the right corner for a gorgeous 3 give Katash’s men a 62-51 lead after thirty minutes. The final quarter saw both sides exchanging buckets as Eilat cut the final result to 78-74.
1) Jerusalem’s guard play was superb from Blatt’s brilliant assists including a beauty to a cutting Timor in the paint midway through the 4th quarter to J’Covan Brown’s 3 clutch 3’s to break open the game with 4 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. Add to that Timor’s confidence and shooting ability especially being able to hit the set piece shot and you’ve got a winning combination. “I’m here to bring energy and to do whatever it takes to find ways to bring that energy from rebounds, assists and scoring whatever the case may be. Every night the circumstances may be different but I’m here to be the spark plug for the team.” Brown commented. “I’ve got to be better and find a way to get a rhythm with the team as I’ve been out with injuries. I’m just trying to find my way and when I do I’ll be a big part of the team and I’ll help everybody try to have a good game.” Josh Owens also spoke about Brown’s evening, “We have a lot of Leif’s that are threats on the court and when we’re not in rhythm we always have opportunities for guys to come in and hit big shots and J’Covan was able to do that and spark us to the win.”
2) Amare Stoudemire is a presence, plain and simple. When “STAT” is on the floor good things are bound to happen. After landing in Israel at 8am on Thursday he was at Jerusalem’s Media Day at the Malha Arena then went to the First Station to meet the fans and on Friday morning he took part in a clinic with visitors to Israel for the Succot Holiday and local anglos. And that was all before he suited up to play 13 minutes, score 6 points and pull down 3 rebounds. Not bad. Amare was in top shape, looked like he hasn’t missed a beat and was a massive presence on the court as the fans serenaded him from the moment he stepped on the floor for the pregame warmups. One funny moment was when Eilat’s American rookie guard David Cohn was being defended by Amare and you could just see that the 23-year old was absolutely out of his league; all of a sudden he had STAT all over him and didn’t know what to do.
3) Bar Timor played a confident game as I mentioned earlier and he’ll need to step up this campaign and not only be one of the leaders on the team but also a later win will take the bill by the horns when necessary. I asked Oded Katash about the guard’s performance which earned himself MVP honors, “I think that our wing players will enjoy this season with plenty of good passes from our point guards and our bigs who know how to pass the ball. It’s in surprise that Bar has confidence and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have. He’s been on the team for many seasons and we have some experienced players. I’m happy that they are able to play well together so quickly.”
Eilat has plenty of work to do. Sharon Drucker’s bench had a measly 10 points which is just not going to cut it as the Red Sea side won’t be able to ride Smith Jr. and Bryant for their scoring all season long. Add to that 20 turnovers and it’s a miracle that the game was as close as it was.