Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Nizhny Novgorod 81-73 in Russia to secure first place in their EuroCup group and claim home court advantage for the best of three quarterfinal round against Gran Canaria of Spain. Amare Stoudemire played lead fiddle yet again for the Reds scoring 19 points and grabbing 9 rebounds, while Lior Eliyahu was the game’s high scorer with 20 points.
Amare Stoudemire and Curtis Jerrells were the main men in the first quarter as the former dropped 7 points, going 5/5 from the free throw line while the latter scored 5 points as the frame ended tied at 16. The second quarter was a tight affair again with Amare and Eliyahu each scoring 6 points a piece as Nizhny took a slight 39-36 lead into halftime.
However, the game turned around for the visitors after a 22-12 3rd quarter thanks to Jerome Dyson, Brian Randle and Jerrells giving Hapoel a 58-51 lead. The final frame was close, but Eliyahu’s ten 4th quarter points helped the visitors maintain the advantage and take home the win along with first place in their group by beating Novgorod 81-73.
1) Mission accomplished; at least so far. Hapoel did what they set out to do. Finishing first in the EuroCup group and gaining home court advantage for the quarterfinals. Jerusalem is a team with a plan and goals that are set by the majority owner Ori Allon. It’s clear what the goals were from the first day that Simone Pianigiani took over on the Reds bench and that was to make sure Jerusalem would be a team to be reckoned with on the European stage. There’s no question that the Italian Head Coach has done just that and more. He has imbued a philosophy and game plan that all the players have bought into, created a well oiled unit and has given Hapoel credibility on the big stage. Pianigiani is a coach with pedigree, wisdom and the know how to get the job done. It’s not easy to find a coach that can mold a group of players that for the majority came together over the summer and includes a former NBA all star in Amare Stoudemire, to excel in continental competition, but Pianigiani has done it. Congrats coach.
2) What’s next for Hapoel? A date with Gran Canaria, a team that blew away the Reds last season. But this is not the same Spanish team from 2015/16. It’s not as deep and just not as good. They will be competitive as they feature some ex-Maccabi players in Richard Hendrix and Darko Planinic along with veterans Royce O’Neal and Bo McCaleb but they are certainly beatable. While they may not be the same, Sasu Salin who was a pivotal player from last campaign still is a prominent member of the squad. Just remember the last time that these two teams met each other, it resulted in a 108-61 win for Gran Canaria as Hapoel finished at the bottom of their group with an 0-6 record. Times have certainly changed, but the next test awaits Jerusalem as they head to the quarterfinals.
3) While Hapoel collected 23 more rebounds against Novgorod, 47-24, their 23 turnovers for the game were absolutely alarming. With 9 turnovers after a 16-16 first quarter, Jerusalem needed to find a way to cut that number drastically down, which they did in frame number two. However, the turnovers just kept coming throughout the second half and they’ll have to be much more careful with their next opponent because Gran Canaria will make them pay and make them pay dearly should they cough up the ball time and time again. In a best of three game series anything can happen and what Hapoel can not let Gran Canaria under any circumstance steal the first game at the Arena in Jerusalem. Should that happen, the European season could end very swiftly and quickly.
Brian Randle made his Jerusalem 2017 debut and scored 9 points in 14 minutes of action. That’s got to make everyone around Red City very happy considering Maalik Hairston’s status as to when or if he is coming back is still unknown. To get another player who can contribute both offensively and defensively is an added bonus for Hapoel as they move onto the quarterfinals. On the other side of the coin, Tarence Kinsey went 0/5 from the field which would make one worry. Kinsey did win last week’s EuroCup MVP award, but then just didn’t play effectively on the offensive end which is something that he has been consistently inconsistent with. Jerome Dyson, who went an abysmal 0/6 from downtown will also have to get ready to go for Jerusalem to succeed and continue on their way.
Hapoel is going to need a true team effort to win and continue on. If they can get all cylinders clicking who knows how far they can go. Dare I say win the EuroCup?