1) Su Braimoh was a man on a mission. Magnificent Su was just unstoppable in the opening game of the playoffs for Jerusalem and it wasn’t just his impressive statistics. In 25 minutes, Braimoh scored 21 points on 8/10 shooting, he pulled down 7 rebounds, dished out 4 assists and drew a massive 9 fouls which resulted in a 30 efficiency rating. Without Braimoh’s fine play, who knows what would have happened especially when Nes Ziona pulled even at 60 in the 3rd quarter. The Nigerian native was mentally into the game from the get go and played as a leader on the court reminding me of the Su that we all saw last year in Eilat as his team went all the way to the Final 4. “Su was great for us tonight,” said John Holland. “He exploited the mismatches down low, knocked down 3’s and got offensive rebounds. He was doing it all for us tonight.” Braimoh didn’t want to take in all of the accolades after the game, “We have to go back to review the video and fix up our mistakes. We have plenty of work to do to improve out play.” Holland echoed his teammates thoughts, “This was a crucial game to set the tone for the series and I’m glad we were able to come together and get the win. But we have to clean up our mistakes and play way better if we want to finish the series on Sunday.”
2) Hapoel Jerusalem didn’t have one of their better nights in game one of their quarterfinal series against Nes Ziona, but even despite that the Reds still won by 25 points, 104-79 in what seemed to be a blowout. But in reality it really wasn’t. The key for Oded Katash’s team was the 4th quarter when their rotation was just fresher than than Nadav Zilberstein’s squad. Sure, Suleiman Braimoh was locked in from the get go and James Feldeine hit his shots as did John Holland but they just didn’t click together as they have done in the past. I’m not taking any anything from a brilliant final frame from Nimrod Levi, Emanuel Terry and others, they did what they needed to do, but let’s take a look at the minutes that the two teams clocked in. Jerusalem had 9 players who out in over 15 minutes of playing time each while Nes Ziona had 6 players with 18 minutes or more. Now that’s a massive difference in depth and personnel available for each squad.
Zilberstein definitely felt that this was the reason his team fell apart in the 4th period, “We played well for the first three quarters and then we just tired out and we were falling apart as we were playing with a short rotation. Oliver and Rice played 30 minutes straight and Limonad and Tokoto played a lot as well. You can see on the score sheet that Jerusalem had 41 bench points and we had 7. We played hard but it came to an end in the last quarter.” However, Oded Katash wanted to hear none of it and stated his team just finally executed properly, “I don’t think that we were able to pull away because Nes Ziona was tired. The players finally were able to score as we asked them to do during the first 3 quarters. Nes Ziona switches on defense and we know how to handle that and when we got to the 4th quarter we just made the game easy for ourselves.”
3) How critical was the mental side of the game? It has been crucial and an issue that Oded Katash has been talking about for a week now. It’s critical that the players get into the right mental state especially understanding that these games are playoff games and that they are playing for all of the chips. Nes Ziona coach alluded to that when asked as to why Lindell Wigginton only played a couple of minutes and he said that he can’t have a player thinking that they are still in the G-League running up and down the court while Katash said the following, “The mental side of the game since returning from the coronavirus break has been crucial. Players have been in quarantine which isn’t their normal routine and I also have been as well. It’s not easy. The issue of the Israeli league being the only one that is playing, the fact that they are reading about a player here and a player there signing with a team isn’t simple as some don’t know their future.”
While Katash was happy with the win, he was also content with some of the pressure his roster had to face which in the long run will make them stronger, “I’m happy we had a bit of a tough time in the third quarter because if anyone thought that this series was going to be easy then they now understand that it’s not. Of course we said that it wouldn’t be a cake walk so when they experienced it they understood better what challenge they have in front of them.” Nimrod Levi had this to say about what happened when Nes Ziona tied up the game late in the third, “I knew we had to wake up and I am happy that we were able to make that switch in our heads and played well in the 4th quarter.”
I liked what I saw from Rayvonte Rice. Sure the guard has been getting back into the form he showed earlier in the season with Eilat when he averaged 18.1 points per game in 8 contests compared to 12.6 now with Nes Ziona, but he made sure to make a scoring difference in the playoff opener with 25 points. Geoff Gray, one of his Eilat teammates had this to say about Rice who will be heading to Kyoto Hannaryz in Japan after the Israeli season comes to a conclusion,, “Rayvonte was a true team player. He has a unique ability to score the ball in a variety of different ways but also plays team basketball. He was a great veteran for a rookie to look up to, and that showed in his willingness to get extra work in with me outside of practice. He is definitely one of the most talented scorers I’ve ever played with and a great person overall.”