Jerusalem absolutely dismantled Hapoel Tel Aviv 86-67 in what many thought would be a one-sided affair going the other way. The capital city Reds had played poorly for quite some time, losing 4 of their 5 past Israeli league games including one to their State Cup rivals. On the other side of the coin the reds from Tel Aviv had been flying high both in domestic league action but also in EuroCup play after taking down London Lions in style by coming back from a double digit deficit to take the England road win.
However, none of that mattered in the least as Aleksandar Dzikic and his squad delivered a clear KO to Danny Franco’s team as they took control of the game by playing aggressively from the get go and built up a quick 11-point, 23-12 lead after the first quarter and never looked back.
Jerusalem dominated every single facet of the game whether it was the rebounds 47-36 including 17(!) offensive boards, 2-point shooting going 51.2% to 36.4%, 3-pointers 11-6, assist 24-15, steals 9-7 and turnovers 12-15. This was one big party for Hapoel Jerusalem as they danced all over the Drive In court. In fact, there was party music being played in the press conference room while Tomer Ginat was trying to sum up his side’s disappointing defeat.
All in all this game was a shocker of all shocker’s except to Dzikic and his charges.
The Serbian bench boss knew exactly what buttons to push ahead of the game. He made sure that the entire squad knew that this was a win or go home situation and had them mentally geared up to play arguably their best game of the season.
Add to that that since Jerusalem finished atop of their Basketball Champions League group they didn’t have to play a midweek game last week in the Play In playoffs which was something Hapoel Holon had to do and that allowed a full week of preparation following the road loss at Galil Elyon.
The one game affair also allowed Dzikic to make a change to his typical starting lineup and finally inserted Khadeen Carrington into the opening five despite having held off from doing that since Levi Randolph suffered an ankle injury a few weeks ago.
“The cup is a specific competition and it’s a knock out game and the players understood that,” Coach Dzikic began. “I thought about that a lot (putting Carrington in the starting 5) and you notice for sure I try to find a balance from the first and second groups. Since Levi is out and Vene is an extra player, I guess we needed more options on offense with the first group so we decided to go there. I don’t know if he will keep on starting but we will see. He’s an incredible guy and accepted that he was going to come off the bench at the start of the season. I think he’s extraordinary person and player.”
To the delight and pleasant surprise to the Jerusalem fans and basketball aficionados, when the second quarter began youngster Noam Yaacov was on the court. The 18-year old just joined Hapoel Jerusalem on loan from ASVEL Villeurbanne for the balance of the season in order to get first team reps in after starring for the French club’s youth team.
But boy was this a spot to make his debut; in a knockout game, on the road in one of the toughest arenas in the country. However, Yaacov looked all the part of a professional as he looked absolutely cool, calm and collected every single step he made, every single dribble and every single pass including a bullet that Itay Segev finished off in the paint.
Yaacov graced the floor like a wily veteran and didn’t look one iota out of place with the “big boys” on the court. While his minutes were limited to just the opening 3:18 of the second quarter the impression he made will be an everlasting one.
“Can you imagine how desperate I was to put an 18 year old kid into a game like this,” Dzikic said. “That is the best description of what is going on. He was not pressed and was not afraid. He gave us what we need and we will see him. I believe in first impressions and that was good. Honestly, we will see many bad games from him and that’s normal for an 18 yard old guy.”
Oz Blayzer also spoke about the newcomers debut, “He did a good job and played some excellent minutes. It’s not easy to make your debut in such an important game. When you speak to him see he has the brain of someone who is older than 18 years old. He’s going to help us a lot. Our job is to make sure that he integrates into the team because having another Israeli is very important for us and we will do everything in our power to help him along the way.”
The 500 plus strong Jerusalem crowd were delirious throughout the game as their heroes never once took their pedal off of the metal and kept just punishing a shell shocked Hapoel Tel Aviv play after play.
The frustration continued to build throughout the game for Hapoel and finally boiled over after the contest when Chinanu Onuaku destroyed a couple of plastic chairs near the entrance of the lockerrooms. It was an unpleasant night every which way you can slice it for Tel Aviv’s supporters and players alike.
Onuaku 3 points, Jordan McRae and JP Tokoto 4 points a piece and Xavier Munford 5 points ain’t going to cut it on any night, forget about even looking at a State Cup knockout game. No way and no how. Whatever could go wrong, went wrong for the Reds.
“The numbers speak for themselves and Jerusalem won every battle in this game,” a deflated Franco said. “It’s not matter of plays and what could have worked a few days ago and what didn’t. It was a bad game and there is no way to comeback from it so we will move on. We will watch the game, but I won’t really go into it. I don’t care what one player did or didn’t do. It’s time to shut up and just come to practice and play Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball.”
Captain Tomer Ginat spoke about what the game plan is going to be after this game and how they will block it out and continue on with what has been a very good season to date. “We will come tomorrow, practice and get back into it as we have an important game coming up. We are professionals and it may not be pleasant to have suffered this loss, but this is what we have to do.”
“This is a competition that I really like and while we won’t be in it now there are other places where we can look to find our success,” Franco concluded.