Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Hapoel Tel Aviv 90-86 in an aggressive and entertaining game at the Drive In Arena. Danny Franco’s Tel Aviv jumped out to an early lead but Jerusalem was able to come back and take the victory thanks to a 17-0 run that went from the end of the third quarter to the beginning of the fourth. Tashawn Thomas starred for Jerusalem with 26 points and 9 rebounds, Josh Owens recorded a double double with 15 points and 10 boards, while J’Covan Brown had 9 points and 9 assists. Tomer Ginat led Tel Aviv with 17 points and 11 rebounds, Garlon Green chipped in with 16 points and Captain Raviv Limonad added 15 points in the defeat.
Hapoel Tel Aviv took a 10-8 lead midway through the first quarter thanks to Limonad and Green as Jerusalem had 5 turnovers in the early going. Ginat ratcheted up the host’s offense down the stretch of the frame as Tel Aviv grabbed a 24-12 advantage.
Jerusalem came out on fire in the second quarter and quickly ripped off a 10-0 run to cut the Hapoel lead to 24-22 but Danny Franco’s squad quickly came back to go up by 7 points, 32-25. Green and Limonad continued to provide the offense as Rich Howell chipped in with some important buckets for Hapoel while Eliyahu, Thomas and Owens helped Jerusalem cut the lead to just a point by halftime 44-43.
Ginat and Limonad led the charge as Tel Aviv pulled ahead 60-52 with 5:15 left in the 3rd quarter but Thomas, Owens and a triple by J’Covan Brown gave Oded Katash’s side a 70-64 advantage after thirty minutes of action.
Jerusalem topped off their 17-0 run to go up 74-64 with 8:35 left in the game but Jamal Shuler drained a 3-pointer to pull to within 86-83 with 34 seconds left in the contest. However, Thomas and Feldeine each hit a pair of free throws to take a hard fought 90-86 win.
1) Sometimes we take Tashawn Thomas for granted and truthfully we just shouldn’t. #35 was masterful against Tel Aviv scoring at will both from the inside and outside as the Jerusalem forward starred in the hard earned victory. The big man took advantage of the space that the host’s gave him from beyond the arc and had no fear hitting 2/3 triples while also pulling down 9 boards. Coach Oded Katash said that he wasn’t surprised with Thomas’s play so far this season and has even higher hopes for him down the road, “I thought over the summer that Tashawn would be this good and I believe that he can be even better.” Thomas himself spoke about his performance after the game, “I just let the game come to me. Sometimes I do a lot of thinking on the court and it hurts me. Today it just kept coming to me and knocked some shots down.”
2) Demitrius Conger made his debut for Jerusalem after being signed by the club roughly a week earlier to replace an injured Chris Johnson. On one hand it was a surprise to see him registered to play in the Israeli league as the Reds only signed him to a month contract with the option to extend it for the balance of the season, thereby eating up another one of the foreigner spots. But on the other hand, Katash certainly wanted to see him in action before Champions League action on Wednesday night in a very critical date at Neptunas in Lithuania. The coach confirmed that fact following the game, “It’s not simple to arrive in the middle of the season and there weren’t many practices for him to be able to get into the swing of things. So it was important that he played some minutes and feel part of the team and plays before being thrown into a European game. We can go back and correct the errors and show him what we really want and that’s why I gave him significant time on the court. All in all, I’m very happy with his effort and his desire to get to know our game. He wants to learn and there is a lot to take in. It’s also even more difficult to come into a team that has been playing well.” Josh Owens echoed the coach’s feelings, “He fit in great, he’s only been here a few days but he’s a very experienced and mature player so he’s able to step in, run the sets really quick and understand his role and how he can help us win.” Thomas also chimed in on the addition of Conger, “Tamir played with him at Hapoel Tel Aviv and I took his word when he said that he would fit in fine. I know he was nervous but we kept talking to him and telling him that it’s just a game of basketball and you’ve done this your whole life. Just come out and play hard. He did a good job tonight.”
3) The Sports Rabbi also had the first interview with Conger following his Jerusalem Debut and he shared his thoughts about his return to Israel and how he scored 5 points in a four point Jerusalem victory, “When you break it down like that, it’s a very positive way to look at it. I’ll try to do whatever I can if I score or point and we win then that’s the goal.” He also spoke about fitting in, “I’m just trying to get in there and help the team. The goal is just to win and that’s the top priority.” Conger had played for Hapoel Tel Aviv back in 2016 with Tamir Blatt and Nate Robinson so the atmosphere at the Drive In was a familiar one, “It definitely was, especially me knowing the home crowd. I definitely knew it was going to be a high intensity game, it was a good first game back.” Conger also looked ahead to the Neptunas game on Wednesday, I’ll just play my game and go over the plans with the coaching staff and see where I can be effective and help the team.”
A trip to Lithuania is never easy and a game in Klaipėda is never simple. With a two game aggregate Round of 16 matchup for Jerusalem in Champions League action it will be all hands on deck as the players prepare for a tough road game. Owens who ended the night with a double double spoke about what he expects, “Neptunas runs some similar half court sets that Hapoel Tel Aviv does. The preparation was two-fold leading up to this game which was a good test in an important game and now we go on the road and have to execute again.” Thomas’s comments were almost identical, “Playing Hapoel Tel Aviv was good because they are kind of like the team we have to play in Lithuania and we were able to see how we can match up against them on Wednesday.” Coach Katash talked about the challenge ahead, “We will have to prepare tactically for the game against Neptunas in the Champions League since we not have many regular practices leading up to it. We will do that via video and as a coach I would have liked to have more practice time. It will be a good game in terms of atmosphere and aggressiveness. Neptunas rebounds the ball offensively very well and we will have to come into the game ready to go.”