[raw]The last thing that Israel wanted to have happen against Poland was to lose and to look as flat as a pancake. Unfortunately they accomplished both by never really being in their third Eurobasket game of the group stages in Prague. Coming into the contest with a 2-0 record a win over Igor Milicic’s Poland would have basically punched the blue-and-white’s ticket to the knockout round in Berlin with the chances of also finishing in second or third place in Group D.
However, AJ Slaughter, Aaron Cel and Mateusz Ponitka had other plans for Guy Goodes’s squad as they controlled the pace of play for the 40 minutes to take a 85-76 win.
The loss puts Israel is quite the pickle because they tip-off against Serbia on Tuesday night at 9pm local time and then play the hosts Czech Republic on Thursday afternoon (5:30pm) in what could very well be the game that will determine who will move onto Germany.
Goodes will have his work cut out for him now with the likes of Nikola Jokic, the 2x NBA MVP, Vasilije Micic and company along with Nikola Milutinov who just arrived in Prague after suffering from a virus.
That’s not going to make Israel’s chances any easier for sure and while the players will give it their all, that just may not be enough.
“We have to prepare for Serbia now and that’s all we’re focussed on,” Jake Cohen said following the game. They have a lot of talented players from top to bottom we have our work cut out for us, but we are going to come in confident thinking that we can win the game.”
Of course had they played better against Poland, they would not have to be concerned about these final two games to the extent that they certainly will be. But you need two teams to tango and Igor Milicic’s squad was certainly not going to roll over and die after a blowout loss to Finland in their last game.
“We wanted to come out aggressive and Finland had gotten us out of the scoring range,” AJ Slaughter who carved up Israel with 24 points said. “We wanted to play offensive and try to take them out of what they wanted to do. This was huge and we knew that coming in with our loss to Finland but it’s not over as we have another game against the Netherlands who will be fighting to stay alive. Every game from this point will be a dog fight and you’ve got to expect it.”
Slaughter, slaughtered Israel going 6/11 from downtown and just hitting his shots from any part of the floor. The naturalised guard put on a show and took advantage of what was given to him by his teammates.
“We have to defend better on the one on one,” Goodes remarked. “There are no secrets here and we have to do much better work there. Also with the momentum swings when they hit some big shots at certain critical points. We didn’t start the game well and we gave up easy baskets and way too many layups.”
Yam Madar specifically pointed out how Israel allowed AJ Slaughter to do as he pleased against them, “Slaughter shouldn’t be able to do what he wants one on one and he has to earn his points by having to play much harder. We have to watch the video and learn from our defensive mistakes and make sure we are coming into the game much better than we did.”
From Cohen’s perspective there were many issues for Israel with plenty of room to improve, “A lot of things went wrong, we didn’t play a good enough game and they deserved to win. I don’t think there was any fatigue. There was confusion with what we were doing, poor communication and I’m not sure exactly. We will have to figure it out for the next game. We didn’t play well and expect for a few flashes we didn’t play well from the start to the finish, there is more to look at other than just the start, there are a lot of things to do better.”
One of the positives coming out of the game was the fine play of Yovel Zoosman who had looked like a shell of his former self in the first two games. But everything seemed to click for him against Poland with 18 points while going 4/5 from beyond the arc. If Israel wants to go deep into this tournament they will need all hands on deck and the Alba Berlin swingman is another imporant factor for that to happen.
“That’s one of the best things that happened today is that he played great,” Cohen said. He played his butt off offensively and defensively and he’s really important for us. He adds a new element and I’m really proud as to how he bounced back.”
Zoos himself didn’t want to sit on his laurels after his showing due to the defeat, “I have to be very limited in my happiness because we lost, but I would have rather that we won. We aren’t robots and sometimes the ball doesn’t go in. It doesn’t matter if I play a second or not but I have to give my best now, it’s doesn’t matter if I start or come off of the bench the goal is to win.”
Israel has been having problems starting off the games well and finds themselves very quickly in trouble and down in some situations by double digits very early on which makes them have to expend energy in order to come back.
“We are putting ourselves in a situation that is making it very difficult for us to come back from,” Madar said. “We aren’t beginning the games the way we should and we have to come in much more focused. From the warmup we have to be much tougher, physical and use our fouls from the start not to give us easy baskets especially when we have fouls to use. We had two at the end of the fourth and we have to be much tougher.”
One of the concerns coming out of the game was Debi Avdija’s disappearing act as the Washington Wizards forward was never in the game and only scored 3-points. He had very few touches and barely tried to drive and take control at certain parts of the contest which we had seen him do in the two previous contests.
“I don’t know what was going on with Deni today and perhaps Poland really focused on him as they had to stop him after the first two games,” Zoosman remarked.
Goodes also spoke about Avdija, “Today wasn’t Deni’s best day and he was a -26. He had a very tough game, but we are going to to the best that we can.”
Avdija had mentioned after last game that he had been taking injections for some minor injuries and perhaps that tipped off Poland to play harder on the defensive end to stop him. Cel commented on what Milicic had said to them, “Coach asked us to play tough and we destabilised him. When he doesn’t score that makes it difficult for Israel.”
Slaughter felt that Avdija will be fine and comeback strong next game, “He’s been playing great all tournament but it happens, games like this happens. Kind of the game I had against Finland, it happens and I’m sure he will bounce back next game.”
Basketball is a team game said Cohen who didn’t want to out the onus on Avdija for the loss, “That’s a team effort, there are a lot of us that didn’t play well today. To put it all on Deni would be unfair. Not all the credit for our winning goes to Deni and not all the credit for our losses go to Deni, that’s not fair. We do things as a team together. We win together and lose together.”
Next up is Serbia and that’s going to be no small task for the Blue & White, but according to Madar, they will fight as hard as they can but if the game starts out the wrong way it will be a tough hole to dig themselves out of.
“We aren’t going to give up in any game and we will battle against every team. If we find ourselves in a deficit against a good team we will have a very tough time to comeback.”