There’s no way around it, the Israel National Team looked bad at Finland last week and looked even worse at home in a stunning 95-83 defeat at the hands of Sweden, a team that the blue-and-white should have easily put into their back pocket. The squad’s performance in the two World Cup Qualifiers has left many more questions than answers as the Eurobasket gets underway in less than a week.
Guy Goodes’s squad looked to have had no energy in the Tel Aviv heat and allowed one Swede after another to easily drive to the hoop and score one uncontested layup after the next to the tune of 63.6% from inside of the arc. Israel committed no hard fouls other than an early an offensive one from Deni Avdija.
Sweden did as they pleased in front of a partisan Israeli crowd which led to some tough moments following the game itself when the assembled press corps needed to wait for over a half an hour to conduct the post game press conference. One could feel the tension and dark cloud that was hanging over the national team like the suffocating humidity before a massive thunderstorm.
The lineups used on the court for the opening thirty minutes were bizarre at best with a hodge-lodge of players coming on and off the court until the start of the forth frame when we finally saw what was Israel’s best potential five in Tamir Blatt, Yam Madar, Yovel Zoosman, Deni Avdija and Roman Sorkin.
This had to be the starting five from the beginning of the game not to start the final ten minutes of a lost cause. It was as if Israel didn’t want to really win the game and wanted to continue to test things that they didn’t have a chance to do during the five exhibition games. This was due to not having all of their personnel available for one reason or another while playing against opponents who to say the least weren’t ideal as preparation for a major tournament like the Eurobasket.
The most concerning issue going into the European Championships that begin on Friday in Prague is that Israel looks as confused as ever and seems like a team that has just begun preparations and not like a team that is raring and ready to go.
That has got to be a massive concern for Goodes.
As much as the bench boss may have wanted to use these two games as a chance to have Avdija play with Blatt and Zoosman which is something that hasn’t happened much before now, or trying to put various players into situations that he had not been able to examine whether it is Nimrod Levi, Tomer Ginat, Jake Cohen or others it seems that Goodes’s plan has backfired.
Dressing Idan Zalmanson and not putting him on the court for one second in the two contests is a waste of time for everyone involved and it would have been better to keep Gaby Chachashvili on the squad to gain experience than to have a veteran center come along and play as a window dressing. Having John Dibartolomeo play a few minutes in Finland and not dress in Israel is not exactly how one would want to see their one naturalised player be used.
It’s a known fact that Avdija and Madar know how to play with each other and have something special when they step onto the floor together. Goodes knows that, anyone who has followed the national team knows that and the fans know that. Having the duo play together as they had in the youth European championships is a no brainier as is not pressing once against Sweden or knowing how to play defense. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be aware of that.
The question that has to be asked is why.
Was Goodes trying not to show his cards ahead of the Finland game and if that was the case the players and atmosphere around the team wouldn’t have been so negative after an inexcusable loss. The coach that just won the Israeli league championship with Hapoel Holon and into the Final Four of the Basketball Champions League didn’t forget how to coach as much as some fans on Twitter would want to make one believe.
But it’s clear that Goodes has somewhat lost the squad and most importantly his only NBA player in Deni Avdija who looked bitter, angry and frustrated as he tossed water bottles on the bench. The last thing the coach can afford is to lose his most talented player especially just five days ahead of their game against Finland who feature a true NBA star in Lauri Markkanen.
The bottom line is is that Israel is heading into the Eurobasket with oodles of questions and very few answers. Could they show up on Friday and look like the national team that had played top of the line basketball and these two games will be just a distant memory? Sure, no question.
Will it happen is a totally different story and one that could lead to a vicious snowball that will be barreling uncontrollably down the hill just waiting to envelop the entire Israel Basketball Association that had changed coaches from Oded Katash to Goodes last year for reasons that were not due to the success of the squad. Or having a dominant figure like multiple time EuroLeague champion coach Pini Gershon on the bench and within the team next to Goodes.
Why did Israel play such poor exhibition games as warmup for the Eurobasket compared to other countries who were playing top level competition including Holland who played the likes of France and Germany plus other high ranking nations. Or not having the full squad together until a week into training camp while other countries were already in house midway through July. Did Israel take this tournament as seriously as they could have and should have.
Has the national team program gone back to the dark days of 2017 when Israel couldn’t get out of their own group that they hosted in Tel Aviv. Those are all queries that will need to be answered should the blue-and-white get off to a nightmare beginning in Prague and will need to call upon the Golem to come and rescue them.
Does Goodes deserve the benefit of the doubt? 100%. He’s got to lead this team into the 2022 Eurobasket and find a way to get the best out of his squad. On paper the blue-and-white should easily advance to the knockout stages in Berlin as they are stronger than Holland and the Tomas Satoransky-less Czech Republic and Poland who do not have an NBA player.
But the games aren’t played on paper they are played on the court and if Israel steps onto the floor and plays the way they have in these past two games, it will be a very, very long ride home and the future of the national team program in question.
“We did not come into this game defensively. When you lose, things don’t go your way but now we have the Eurobasket. We will regroup and come into the competition the best that we can.
Deni Avdija didn’t have the best game but even the best players sometimes don’t have the best games. Of course, we should have not lost and it’s a tough defeat, but we have to do better and we are focused towards the Eurobasket. I feel that I am ready and as I get older and I continue to learn with time. We need to move forward but I wish we could have changed the result.
I think we did not into this game well and we may have underestimated the opponent a bit and that’s too bad. we did not perform well and we need to come focused to the Eurobasket.
This can definitely be a wake-up call but I also believe in our abilities. We have showed that we can handle a lot of opponents. We are not following the game plan as a unit and it’s about focus. If we can get back into our flow, we will play well and if not we will be stuck.
We didn’t disrespect the Swedish team. We lost the game and we were not at the level that we expect from ourselves. We missed a lot from the line, we need to look at what happened and lift up our heads up and go do our best this weekend.
Deni is a powerhouse and our best player. On both sides of the floor he can give a lot, we need him focused on both ends of the court and we will do whatever we can in order for that to be that way. He is very positive without ego and we as a team need to make him feel good and in the rhythm.