Hapoel Jerusalem couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in the Basketball Champions League defeating AEK Athens 79-75 at the OAKA Arena. AEK took a 42-31 lead into the halftime break as the host’s held a huge advantage on the glass (27-18) and shooting percentage 43%-34%) after twenty minutes. Dusan Sakota, Giannoulis Karentzakis and Vince Hunter led the way for AEK with 8 points each, while J’Covan Brown dropped 9 points for Jerusalem.
However, the second half was an entirely different story as Oded Katash’s Team came out flying and went on a 21-3 run to open the 3rd quarter thanks to Brown, Chris Johnson, Tamir Blatt and Da’Sean Butler. Their strong run and gun play made all the difference as Jerusalem took a 58-55 lead after thirty minutes. The final frame saw the Reds move their lead up to 12 points, 71-59 with 5:01 left in the game, but AEK still had one run left in them to cut the advantage to 77-75 with 10 seconds left in the contest. But missed free throws by Xavier Ratha-Mayes and free throws made by Butler and Feldeine sealed the deal for Jerusalem to take home the hard earned W.
1) I’m not quite sure what Oded Katash told the team at halftime, but whatever it was certainly worked and worked to a charm as Brown led the charge out of the gates to go on an unbelievable 21-3 run. The quartet of Brown, Johnson, Butler and Owens made minced meat out of AEK. Whether it was Brown’s shooting or passing, Johnson’s defense and key buckets, Butler’s unbelievable Basketball IQ which at one point pushed his +/- to +24 or Owen’s dunks the Reds were unstoppable and primarily because of their hustle. But not only their hustle; they all looked out for one another and didn’t get down when they had played a poor first half. At the post game press conference AEK Coach Luca Banchi kept blaming his players for their poor body language and attitude after the Jerusalem 21-3 run. He ripped into his players for their attitude to the press at his first Champions League Post game press conference. Not a good start for AEK.
2) Chris Johnson provided the hustle as mentioned above and he spoke about what went on in the 2nd half, “We brought energy and we all locked in during the 3rd quarter. We all stayed together and played hard and I think that’s the biggest thing. If everyone can lock in at one time on the court and play hard we’ll be a tough team to beat. We had a chip on our shoulders in that 3rd quarter and made the run.” And made a run they did. Perhaps a run that changed their Champions League season so early in the campaign. You can lose a competition in the first few games but you can’t win it. By finding that will to win they catapulted their season off to a great start.
3) Oded Katash agreed but also knows there’s plenty of work to be down, “It’s always nice to win especially the first game away against the defending champions. It says a lot. But that’s about it. We need to take the W and be proud how we played in the second half but still have a lot of things to improve in our game. We need to collect wins and it’s always important to start off on the right way. There’s still a lot of work ahead of us.”
Happy Birthday Oded Katash! The Hapoel Jerusalem coach couldn’t have had a better start to the Champions League, especially on his 44th Birthday! Katash spoke about his love for Athens after I mentioned to him that this time it was a happy victory and not a bitter sweet one when he defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv with Panathinaikos in this same Arena, the OAKA. “I told my players that I’m not a Birthday guy and that I don’t like presents but this is a special one, especially in Athens. You all know how much I love the Greek people and the city of Athens and it’s always special for me to be here. The two years I was here were very special with a lot of memories, but above all that it was my last season playing basketball. I really would have wanted to be with my family on my birthday but if I couldn’t be, this is the best place to be in Athens, Greece.” Happy Birthday!
1) Amare Stoudemire played 13 minutes and scored 4 points while pulling down 5 rebounds. However, he only played 3 minutes in the second half. However, Alex Chubrevich played almost 7 minutes in the 2nd half and was a physical presence on the court with 4 points and a +/- of +11!
2) Bar Timor ended the night off with a DNP – Did Not Play. Not sure exactly why but Yogev Ohayon did play 6:17 all in the first half after injuring his ankle last game at Herzliya so that was a surprise.
3) About 5,000 people were at OAKA amongst them were a roughly 50 Red fans sitting courtside with a presence of police protecting them. They serenaded the players after the win and cheered Lior Eliyahu when he went for his post game interview.
4) Tamir Blatt has a workmanlike performance in front of his family and father, Olympiacos Head Coach David Blatt. Blatt Jr. was an important part of Jerualem’s 4th quarter run and finished the game with 9 points and 7 assists.
5) There were PLO and Hezbollah flags displayed right behind the AEK bench. At halftime the PLO flag was moved to underneath the basket where Jerusalem was scoring and near the AEK Ultras. Not a pleasant sight for sure.