Hapoel Jerusalem fell to AEK Athens 83-70 at the Pais Arena in Jerusalem as the Greek side exacted revenge on Oded Katash’s squad for their Champions League Gameday 1 win at the OAKA Arena. With the defeat Jerusalem’s record dropped to 6-2 good for second place as AEK took over sole possession of the top spot of Group C. James Feldeine scored 16 points while Tashawn Thomas added 13 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in the loss. Malcolm Griffin led all scorers with 25 points and an efficiency rating of 34, Vince Hunter chipped in with 16 points and 8 rebounds as captain Dusan Sakota scored 12 points and 7 boards in the win.
AEK raced out to a 16 point, 29-13 lead as the Greek offense sliced and diced Jerusalem early on thanks to Howard Saint-Roos and Griffin, however, a 9-0 Hapoel run led by Feldeine and J’Covan Brown to end the first quarter cut the advantage to just 7 points, 29-22. Katash’s side took a 34-32 lead in the second quarter with inspired play by Thomas but AEK closed out the half up 48-43.
Jerusalem came out of the break flat and couldn’t buy a bucket until the third quarter was 6 minutes old but stood tough as they went into the final frame down by 5 points, 61-56. But an 11-2 run in the 4th quarter that featured strong play by Sakota and Hunter closed out a 13 point, 83-70 victory.
1) Jerusalem were nowhere to be found in the first quarter and in effect lost the game right off the bat. They were asleep at the wheel. AEK had a solid game plan in place to take advantage of their size and height against Tamir Blatt and they did just that but it wants just Blatt as Jerusalem Coach Oded Katash explained, “Each one of the five players on the court during the first five minutes made 2-3 mistakes and they know it as well. It wasn’t just Tamir Blatt but all of the players including Josh Owens and Tashawn Thomas. They all had to come into the game in a much stronger mental state.” It was also clear that Hapoel needed to find a way to defend AEK and they just allowed them to run wild. Fouls are a useful tool and they barely committed them in that first frame to stem the tide, “Fouls are a very important tool in basketball and you have to know how to use them in order to stop play at the start of a game.”
2) James Feldeine looked throughly dejected after the game and wore his emotions on his sleeve as he walked out of the locker room. “It’s part of the season and the game. It’s tough to lose a game like this. We had a chance but they came out strong. They came in hungry and we started the game like we did.” Jerusalem was well aware of the game’s importance but just couldn’t handle AEK’s start, “We kept on saying that we were tied for first place and we knew how good they are but we started the game really slow and they wanted from jump ball. I think that hurt us as we are usually a team that jumps out first. We got jumped on and we didn’t know how to react right away. We came back but we ran out of gas in the last couple of minutes.”
3) It was clear that AEK wanted to win this game badly. They came out flying, kept to their game plan and used their desire to just blitz the Reds. The Greek side’s Captain Dusan Sakota is not only a consummate professional but an absolute gem of a person on and off of the court. The Sports Rabbi spoke to him about the importance of his team’s victory, “This was a great win and we wanted it a lot. It’s actually like a double win for us as we also managed to take the point spread, so we’re very happy. We lost in the first European game of the year to Jerusalem on our home court on opening night and we haven’t lost many games in general. So that game obviously hurt us a lot. Our team has a lot of character and we showed it in this win.” Sakota also discussed the keys to the game, “We wanted to control the rebounds as they are by far the best defensive rebounding team. We wanted to start off playing tough defense and get them out of a rhythm as they are a dangerous team when they go into their comfort zone. We managed to do that especially at the beginning of the game and we kept the lead throughout the whole contest.”
Malcolm Griffin had a tremendous game and showed his emotions on the final play of the game, a massive dunk and screaming for joy right in front of the TV camera. He could have just ran out the clock but he wanted to show Jerusalem how important the win was for his team, AEK. “I haven’t been the best on my team offensively but to get this win and to finish off the game like that just felt good and I expressed my emotions as the game was over.” That dunk was a statement dunk for Athens, one that says loud and clear that AEK are the defending champions and although Hapoel Jerusalem won on opening day the Champions League title runs through Greece.