Hapoel Jerusalem locked down the last spot in the Israel State Cup Final Four by dropping Hapoel Gilboa Galil 80-65 at Gan Ner in a rough and tumble battle up in the Galilee. After a very tight three quarters, the Reds were able to turn the tide off a late turnover right at the en of the third quarter and then dominated the final frame to notch the win.
Tashawn Thomas led the way for Oded Katash’s squad with 24 points and 9 rebounds, Suleiman Braimoh added 14 points, Tamir Blatt had12 points while Idan Zalmanson chipped in with 10 points in the win. Isaiah Cousins scored 13 points while Jehyve Floyd and Kerry Blackshear each scored 12 points in the defeat.
Tashawn Thomas above all
Thomas the Tank Engine as he is sometimes passionately refereed to was exactly that, an engine in the paint cleaning up rebound after rebound while finding the bottom of the basket time and time again inside. And that is what Jerusalem needed in such a game. “I want Tashawn with me wherever I am,” said Oded Katash. In fact, the majority of the points for both teams were scored close to the basket and not out on them perimeter which is usually the case in a game that saw so much desire form both sides. The Reds three bigs, Thomas, Suleiman Braimoh and Idan Zalmanson combined for 48 of the team’s 80 points while the same was true for Gilboa with their forwards checking in with 39 points of 65, so that gives you an idea of what type of action we saw down low. When you play that type of game you’ve got to be physical and know how to play tough defense in order to not let the opposition feast inside and that’s what Jerusalem did after giving up 200 points in their last two league games. “We played against an excellent team who are coached extremely well,” explained Katash. “They played us very tough and this was a very difficult game. I was very happy as to how we defended throughout the 40 minutes and I am very proud of the players who have played many minutes recently.”
Don’t be lazy
So the question that bears to be asked is what did Jerusalem need to do to play defense and a physical game. Thomas shed some light on that with an honest observation, “For me it’s stopping to be lazy, playing defense is your will, we did it well as a team and everybody was on the same page. That was one thing we did well this week preparing for this game.” The star of the show also spoke about how the team needed to pick it up and put in strong performance despite some nagging injuries, “It’s big for us with Covid, it’s crazy. We had injuries all year so for everybody to keep fighting, in order for the team to trust each other we need to fight if we can, we trust each other. I appreciate the guys fighting through the knick-knack injuries.” Katash also praised his players for their effort, “I’m very proud of the players as we came into this game finished and hurt. J’Covan Brown gave above and beyond of himself, Chris Kramer gave a big effort and Tamir Blatt was doubtful to play the last couple of days. Gilboa came ready and prepared for us and they took us out of our usual game.”
As for Lior Lubin and his Gilboa team, he understood that no matter what Jerusalem’s status was they were going to be the underdogs against the Cup holders, and as underdogs they would have to scratch and claw to get the win. That is what they did, but it wasn’t enough as Gilboa just didn’t have enough to contend with the Reds in the fourth quarter as Jerusalem raced out to a 17-2 run and never looked back to score the victory. “Jerusalem is a very talented team and they are also the Cup holders,” said Lubin. “Their size experience and depth eventually decided the game. We wanted this to be a celebration but without fans it was a bit anemic in the building.” Lubin also noted that although his star Iftach Ziv played, he only checked in with 17 minutes with most of them coming in the second half as he was coming off an injury and they didn’t want to risk him. In addition, when a team turns over the ball (16) more than their assists (14) as well as poor shooting from the outside going 5/28 (17.9%!) plus off days by Isaiah Cousins and Joe Thomasson, your chances of winning go way down. “When you hit your shots then the game obviously will much closer,” concluded Lubin.
I’ve got to give a good word to Idan Zalmanson. Not only did the Jerusalem big man check in with 10 points and 7 rebounds while being a force inside, he was a force even five minutes before the game started. One of the great things about Gan Ner is that the press section is literally on top of the visitors bench, so much so you are inside the timeouts! You can watch the coach draw up the play on his board and hear every single word uttered throughout the contest. With that in mind, it was easy to hear who the most verbal player was, Idan Zalmanson. He was the cheerleader riling up the troops before the game, during game and at timeouts. His enthusiasm was addictive and his positivity is something that really came to the forefront in a knockout game. Nice.