Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Nes Ziona 94-88 to advance to the Finals of the Winner Cup. After a back and forth first half, Jerusalem broke away in the third quarter on the strength of Tamir Blatt and Trent Lockett to go up 86-68 with 5:34 left in the game. But Golan Gutt and Tal Dunne led a furious comeback and pulled to within three points, 89-86 with 34 seconds left to play, however, Blatt came up big with a 3-pointer to take the 6-point win. Su Braimoh scored a team high 19 points, Blatt added 17 points while Lockett had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals in the win. Daequan Cook led Nes Ziona with 17 points, Tal Dunne and Corey Fisher added 15 points a peace and Golan Gutt dropped 14 points in a losing effort.
Both teams were off to the races early on as Suleiman Braimoh dropped 8 points for Jerusalem and Golan Gutt scored 8 for Nes Ziona as the Reds took a slim 30-28 lead into the second quarter. J’Covan Brown started scoring at will while Daequan Cook hit a trio of triples to keep the clubs neck and neck into halftime with Jerusalem holding a slight 52-49 advantage.
Tamir Blatt and Trent Lockett turned up the offense in the third quarter and began to pull away from Nes Ziona as the frame ended with the Reds ahead 73-64. The Reds continued scoring into the 4th quarter but Gutt led Nes Ziona on a comeback to cut the lead to just 3 points, 89-86 with half a minute reading the game. But a Blatt triple followed up by a pair of Braimoh free throws put the finishing touches on a 94-88 victory.
1) After a free flowing offensive first half from both sides, Jerusalem began to lock down on the defensive end in the second half and built an 18 point lead with roughly half a quarter left in the game. However, Nes Ziona ran off a 15-0 run and pulled to within 3 points with just second left which left Reds coach Oded Katash just shaking his head as he saw his side fritter away a huge lead for absolutely no reason. “We thought that the game was done, “explained Katash. “But when you’re playing Nes Ziona who are a dangerous team with Golan Gutt it’s never over. I wasn’t happy with the first half and we gave them a lot of fast break easy basket for no reason.” What he was happy was that Jerusalem was able to withstand the pressure, have Blatt hit a huge shot and walk off with the win. Braimoh also looked back at the win, “It was a team win and we did what we had to do and it was a good team effort. We started a little slow and in the second half we made a more concerted effort on defense.” Su also gave credit to Nes Ziona for battling all the wya to the end, “That’s basketball, it’s a game of runs. Credit to them for not giving up when they were down by 18 points. They capitalized on our mistakes but we were able to execute down the stretch when we needed to.”
2) Blatt really took the game into his hands down the stretch and rewarded the faith that Oded Katash placed on him with a huge triple. The young guard looked well behind his years and controlled the flow of the game while also coming up big. “Tamir is doing well,l said Katash. He has been playing more aggressively this year on defense. He’s taking more upon himself as a leader. He’s playing for a big club for a second season and that’s also something that’s helping him.” If Blatt can continue his upward trend then he will go a long, long way in Israel and perhaps Europe which is obviously a goal for him down the road. Braimoh also commented about his point guard, “Blatt is our floor general. He made the three near the end and he did a good job.”
3) Without Tashawn Thomas, Su Braimoh has been picking up the slack and playing solid, in fact more than solid basketball. The big man has finesse in the paint and is very mobile near the basket. Katash spoke about hjs new defensive stopper, “Su Braimoh can play two positions and when Tashawn Thomas comes back we will be a bit more organized. But we know what Braimoh can bring to the court and we really like him. I believe he can succeed at these levels.” The big man spoke to The Sports Rabbi right after the game, “We will have to learn from this game especially from our lack of defense in the first half and how we blew a big lead in the second half. We have to pick up the pace on defense. I feel good with being the captain and it’s a bit different as all of a sudden I’m a more mature player. I’m enjoying the opportunity and I hope that I can stand up to the expectations.”
One of the players that is a Katash favorite is no doubt Trent Lockett, Jerusalem’s new “Minister of Defense”. When Chris Johnson went down last year, Katash lost a huge piece to the puzzle and a player that could have taken the Reds over the top in Europe should he nor been injured. With Lockett in Jerusalem, the defensive stopper is back and he’s also a player that can do a number of things on the court which makes the Reds very dangerous for any opponent. “I like Lockett in any situation,” stated the coach. “He’s the type of player that a coach loves. He’s an incredible defender and scores easy points. He has wonderful character and is really a part of the team.’ Braimoh also chimes in about Lockett, “Trent brings a lot on the defensive and I like to feed off of his energy and he feds off of mine. We talk a lot about that and we try to keep the intensity up in defense. He had 11 rebounds so he got down and dirty with us.”