The Israel National basketball team lost a disappointing game tonight in Helsinki, Finland 84-83, to a desperate Finnish squad who needed a victory to stay in contention in Eurobasket 2011 qualifying.
There were some very disturbing trends that I took away from this game tonight and exposed the Israeli teams’ weaknesses. But not only was the play on the court questionable there were also distressing decisions made throughout the game as well.
In the first two games of qualifying we saw an Israeli side that was nearly unstoppable when they would go into the transition offense and play run and gun. The main fault in those two games was the set offense, but it was somewhat hidden with the players overwhelming their opposition running the floor and hitting at high percentage rates.
They moved the ball well those two games and it showed with 32(!) assists in the game against Latvia. Tonight the team had only 7 assists and ball movement was very very poor.
Part of the problem was that the Finns played extremely tight defense and ran back to defend after every single offensive play. Before you knew it, they were already clogging the lanes and not letting Israel penetrate. Every Israeli pass was challenged and Israel was not able to get any offensive rhythm going.
Israel did not seem prepared to meet the challenge of the Finns defense and they never got into a proper offensive flow.
Yogev Ohayon would cut into the lane and there would be a Finn. Tal Burstein would be looking for an open man and lo and behold another Finn would be on his tail. A shot would go up and the Finns would box Israel out.
After watching the last two games one could easily see the difference between tonight and the other evenings.
Coach Arik Sivek brought in Raviv Limonad in the first half and he really helped spark not only the offense but the tight defense that had been lacking on the Israeli side.
But when the second half began Limonad was no where to be found on the floor, he was back on the bench. He eventually did come in during the fourth quarter, but he should have been out there much earlier as he had been such an important catalyst to keep Israel ahead at half time 48-44.
And then there is the typical poor European decisions that take place at the end of a game. Let’s play a game of foul shots and win it at the line instead of playing tight defense.
What do I mean you ask? With Israel up 83-82 and 13 seconds left on the clock, Tal Burstein attempted to inbound the ball but instead threw it away turning the ball over to Finland.
At that point the announcers started saying how Israel would now foul to put Finland on the line. I almost went through my ceiling.
Explain to me why you would foul your opponent when YOU have a one point lead. Not a 3 point lead, not even a two point lead but a ONE POINT LEAD!!!
Hey we’ll foul you and give you a chance to take the lead! Now that makes a lot of sense right?
Excuse me, but in what sport do we ever want to give the opposition the chance to take a lead???
(I have to remember this is not the NBA and this would never have happened in an NBA game. This is European basketball-note to self)
Not only did Israel commit the foul, put the Finns on the line, who of course promptly sank both free throws, but did not even have a timeout to ice the shooter and/or set up a proper play with a dozen seconds left on the clock.
Instead we got to see a cold as ice Tal Burstein take the ball up court, not have any options and chuck up a terrible shot.
Game, set, match to the Finns, 84-83.
Omri Casspi finished the night with 17 pts but really was not a major factor especially near the end of the game when he had 4 fouls. David Bluthethal also had an off night going 0-7 from the floor.
But all in all as coach Sivek said after the game, “This is not how we wanted the game to end and we knew we were playing a team with their backs against the wall. Every time we led and we led a few times, we stopped playing as a team which led to this disappointing loss.”
The bottom line from this game is that Israel did not play as a team and could not handle the intense pressure that Finland played with.
And as coach Sivek concluded, “We have a tough game Saturday night at home vs. Montenegro that we must win. We have to lift up our heads and now is not the time to cry over split milk.”
I couldn’t agree more. Let’s put this game aside, come back and make sure we take care of business at home against a very tough side. Israel knows that they will have 11,000 rabid fans backing them Saturday night and that should help lift their spirits and continue on.