Hapoel Gilboa Galil was clearly the better team entering their quarterfinal series against Hapoel Jerusalem with a full and deep roster of players and an excellent mix of Israelis and foreigners. As for the capital city Reds, they entered the postseason broken having lost four imports that returned to the United States due to the security situation and a very short bench.
It was no surprise that in game one of the best of three series Avishay Gordon’s team demolished a helpless Jerusalem side 85-58. However, they also knew that game two on the road would not be nearly as easy and that as proven to be correct.
Yonatan Alon’s team gave Gilboa everything that they could handle as they scored early and often against a Galilee squad that looked nothing like the team that took to the court in Gan Ner 48 hours earlier. Jerusalem did anything and everything to cause Gilboa fits whether it was Idan Zalmanson scoring in the key, Suleiman Braimoh form the outside and inside or Chris Kramer hitting his shots and even putting down a dunk.
The Reds disrupted Gordon’s team time and time again as they continued to make one bad decision after the next over the course of the first twenty minutes. But after the halftime break, Gilboa started chipping away at Jerusalem’s lead which bumped up to 23-points while also playing airtight defense as time ticked off of the clock with Jehyve Floyd taking center stage.
The story that was about to unfold over the final ten minutes could be likened to the “The Tortoise and the Hare”, one of Aesop’s Fables with the tortoise in this case Gilboa who were going to find a way to cross the finish line at the 40 minute mark in first place. They kept going slowly but surely throughout the fourth quarter and as the seconds went by the came closer and closer and closer until finally they were able to get over the hump as it went from 89-81, 89-83, 89-85, 89-87, 89-88, 89-89, 89-90, 89-91. The end.
There were a number of heroes for Gilboa on the night, from Joe Thomasson to Iftach Ziv, Kerry Blackshear to Isaiah Cousins. But there was no one bigger than big man Jehyve Floyd how put on a 25 point, 10 rebound performance as he helped erase a massive second half deficit to end the sees right there and then in the Jerusalem Arena and not what until Saturday night to do so at home.
“We’ve been there before being down by 19, 20 points against teams and made a comeback,” Floyd began. “It starts with our defense. We started putting pressure on the guards and disrupting their offense that’s when we gets stops and get on a run. I feel like that in the first half we didn’t do that they got open shots and it let them gain confidence.”
Whatever could go wrong did for Gilboa as they dug themselves their own deep, deep hole but they were abet to figure it out when they had to in what was just one heck of a crazy game.
“I have seen a lot in my career and a game like this only happens once in a while,” Gordon said at the post game press conference as he described his team, “In one word, winners. This is a special team and I’m proud to get to the final four. It’s a big honor. The first half was a catastrophe and you can describe it that way. In the second half we took it step by step.”
Gordon made sure to prepare his team not to think that they were going to have a walkover in the Arena, but preparing is one thing and implementing that in practice is something totally different, “We spoke about how Jerusalem would play for their pride and would be aggressive. They have a lot of great players, but this was a big lesson for us and this game came down to the small things. We kept our head up and made the big shots.”
“To be honest, I think we came into the thing like we got to beat them early on,” Floyd said. “I think they punched us in the mouth first and then we didn’t respond until the end but the goal was to get a 2-0 (sweep) so we can also get some rest in between the series. I think we came into the game a little bit too high but once we were down we felt more comfortable but we don’t want to do that again.”
Gilboa certainly won’t want to do that again because they know full well that should they do so, either Hapoel Holon or Nes Ziona will punish them Floyd explained, “Both teams are tough, both teams beat us and we beat them, so it going to be a tough game either or. With Nes Ziona we would have home court advantage so you know.”
With a super short squad, Jerusalem’s players got into serious foul trouble as the minutes went by and Gilboa could have taken advantage of the situation much earlier on in the fourth quarter to make their lives a but easier as they mounted their comeback. But as Floyd explained, they are a team that is still learning anf coming into their own, “We’re a young team. We’re just out here trying to play trying to fight and come back. We weren’t really thinking about tactics all season, we’ve been just playing hard, just playing basketball and trying to figure out a way.”
“We spoke about these things at the breaks and timeouts,” Gordon competed. “I wanted to go inside more and more. We have a lot of tools, sometimes it’s Kerry, or Jehyve, or Joe.”
Floyd is quickly becoming one of the hottest names in Israeli basketball as more and more fans are finding out about the Holy Cross product and what he offers on the court compared to the rest of the league, “I pride myself on defense. I don’t know about how overall as there are some great centers out there, but I think I’m the best defensive center in the league and I try to prove that all season long. We got some great stops in the last seconds of the game.”
Gordon feels that Floyd can do even more than what we have seen so far in only his second season playing pro ball, “I want him to take more on himself and be more physical, get to the line and believe in himself. He has to take advantage of his size and tools.”
If Floyd can continue to develop there’s no question that he will be able to move up a level or two just like other “graduates” of Gilboa who have made it to the Euroleague. One example of that is Zach Leday, but one thing that the Milano forward doesn’t have is an Israeli league title and that’s something Floyd is looking for along with the rest of the cub who haven’t hoisted the league championship since 2010.
“The goal is always the championship. They told us from the beginning of the season that we have a special group we’ve proved it time and time again across the season we are here now; might as well shoot for the stars.”