Starting 5: I’m going to miss Tomer Ginat, Nimrod Levi takes advantage, Darryl Monroe’s effort, Akil Mitchell is great! Wrapping up Game 2 of the Israel Basketball QF Series

1) I’m going to miss Tomer Ginat. Yes I will. The Hapoel Tel Aviv captain will be heading to France next season after signing with Levallois Metropolitans and will leave a huge hole at Hapoel Tel Aviv both in terms of leadership and in terms of scoring and defense. Ginat has been spectacular over the years for the Reds for whom he played with between 2016-2020 and who has also been responsible for many great moments in the club’s recent history. The forward gives it all on the court and never, ever doesn’t provide his team with less than 110% effort game in and game out. France is getting a real star and we’ll have him at least in Israel for one more game and perhaps even more. After falling in game one of their quarterfinal series to Maccabi, Ginat wanted to make sure there would be no way that he would lose in his final game on his own home court at the Drive In Arena. And that’s exactly what happened. Not only didn’t Hapoel lose they forced a decisive game 3 on Thursday night while starring in the win. “This was very emotional for me and many thoughts ran through my head,” said Ginat. “Playing a Derby at home, which would be the last home game in any case and losing which would have been the last game for me with Hapoel. When you’re playing you have to out it aside, play and do the best you can to win and that’s what we did. I am happy as to how we played and we have at least one more on Thursday.”

Dov Halickman Photography

2) One of the players who has take full advantage of his situation with Hapoel Jerusalem is Nimrod Levi. The Reds forward has been superb since the break and was absolutely spectacular in the two playoff games against Nes Ziona averaging 18 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 assists. With the departure of Tashawn Thomas and J’Covan Brown, Coach Oded Katash knew that some players needed to step up and that’s exactly what has happened. Whether it’s Suleiman Braimoh who I wrote about in the game two Jerusalem win taking a leadership role to fill a void or now Levi who was hitting both from beyond the arc and in the paint has grabbed the opportunity handed to him on a silver platter. Levi who didn’t factor much in Europe or in critical games for Jerusalem has now become a featured weapon in Katash’s arsenal and because of that his confidence has also soared, “I’m happy that Nimrod’s shots have been finding the bottom of the basket. Due to the way Nes Ziona defended us, it allowed the number 4 a lot of freedom and he knew how to took advantage of the situation the way he should.” Braimoh also commented on Levi’s play, “He’s locked in and he is taking his opportunities and he is being who we know he can be.” Finally John Holland had this to say about the Swedish born forward, “Nimrod played a great game. He’s a excellent shooter and he knocked down some big shots that allowed us to take control of the game.”

3) Rishon Le’Zion busted out in the second half of game two up in Haifa to take the best of 3 series, two games to none thanks to a tremendous effort by big man Darryl Monroe. Alex Hamilton set the table in the first half with 16 points but the Greens held a slim 1-point lead after the first twenty minutes. But that was about it for Daniel Seoane’s squad as Guy Goodes’s Rishon Le’Zion rattled off 59 points and held Haifa to 39 over the last two quarters to advance to the playoffs. “We won and that’s what is most important,” Monroe said as he wanted to deflect his fine showing. “I’m very excited for my teammates as we had to another Final 4. Coach knew what we needed to do and he said at the half that we have twenty more minutes to get to the Final 4 and we came out on fire in the second half.” Well that was for sure. What did his coach Guy Goodes think of his showing? “He’s not a kid and is 34 years old. He knows how to take care of himself and makes sure to show up in money time. He knows how to pass the ball and push the team forward and was the leader.” Mark it down, Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion will be a real threat to Jerusalem on Sunday.

4) Akil Mitchell is good. Actually he is really good. He’s got it all on the court. He can dunk as witnessed by some fantastic alley-top passes from Iftach Ziv, he can score from almost anywhere on the court and he can button down on the defensive end as well. The Virginia power forward arrived in Israel with tremendous experience already on his resume from his time in college with the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris and Mike Scott, to playing in the G-League, Italy and in New Zealand. When I saw that Hapoel Gilboa Galil signed Mitchell I was excited because I knew Lior Lubin was getting a player with a great attitude who is positive on and off of the court and a player that would back down from nobody and I was correct. Even in the blowout win against Holon, once the game began getting out of hand, Guy Pnini tried to stir the drink up as he always does, but Mitchell was having none of that nonsense and made sure not to get suckered into an altercation with a player who has a history of knowing how to get under one’s skin. “We knew that we played a good game up to the 4th quarter last game and we knew that if we stuck to our game plan we would be ok,” Mitchell said. What has been the teens secret to success? “I think it all starts with our defense and came from getting points in transition and fast break points. If we can keep locking up then our offense kind of flows.” Mitchell also looked ahead to game 3 at Ashdod against Holon, “Everyone’s happy and smiling after we put up 100 points, but it means nothing. We are still in the same position as we have to focus on getting guys healthy, recover and get ready for game 3 on Thursday.”

5) Here’s a little bit more on Mitchell and how he arrived in the Holy Land after playing in Italy earlier in the 2019/20 season, “After starting off in Italy I got home and then my agent called me and said that there was an opening in Israel. At the time, North Carolina where I live was becoming a hot spot so I figured I would go and play, Israel seems like a safe place and here I am.” The big man also spoke about Israel, “It’s a beautiful country and it’s hit as it’s the summertime but I would love to be able to see it when when can be around other people.” But let’s finish this off with a little basketball as to how the team has been able to jell together fairly quickly, “We believe in each other and we had a meeting after the Nahariya game which was our first one and said, this is where we are. We know we can play good basketball and I saw these guys in practice and I can see what they can do. I believe in our potential and as the eldest guy on the team we got together and said look if we play hard and we leave it out there every game we’ll live with the results and the results have gotten us here.”

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