Winning is the name of the game: Israel overcomes tough Poland with Madar conducting the orchestra

Nov 26, 2021 | Holyland Hoops

Winning is the name of the game and that is what Israel had to make sure the end result was going to be against Poland in their opening World Cup Qualifying contest as the Blue & White began the campaign with a 69-61 victory. However, there was a stunned silence permeating throughout the Drive-In Arena in front of a sold out 3,000 fan crowd as the visitors grabbed what looked to be an insurmountable 19-4 lead early in what was a dominant display on both ends of the floor.

Israel had taken a 2-0 lead with points by Jake Cohen but after that it was all Igor Milicic’s squad with stifling, pressure packed on the ball defense while their big, big, big man Olek Balcerowski clogged the paint and swatted away shot after shot while forcing Israel to change their looks at the basket time and time again.

Guy Goodes – Photo Credit: FIBA

Guy Goodes, who was making his debut on the Blue & White sidelines couldn’t have had a flatter than flat pancake like start to his time on the Israel bench. With the 15-point deficit and awful basketball display, talk began to swirl that Goodes’s troubles with club team Maccabi Rishon Le’Zion reared their ugly head right into a solidly built, ready to play national team which had been set up to succeed by Oded Katash who was not retained when his contract came up last month.

“They jumped on us from the start and were very aggressive,” Nimrod Levi who played a crucial role in the comeback said in the Mix Zone following the game. “I am happy that at the end of the day we did what we needed to. We were just frozen at the beginning of the game and they were just very aggressive the entire game.”

Levi’s triple as time wound down at the end of the first quarter along with a floater from Boston Celtics property and current Partizan Belgrade guard Yam Madar cut the lead to 9-points by the end of the first frame as little by little Israel began to find its composure and get themselves back in the game thanks to the bench.

Idan Zalmanson – Photo Credit: Elay Elad

“They really pressed us early and did a good job with that, but we showed a lot of character and we began sharing the ball,” center Idan Zalmanson stated.

And share the ball they did as young Madar with his flair conducted the orchestra like a pro, dishing out the ball to the likes of Guy Pnini who used his veteran savvy to get it into the free man down low and up top to all of a sudden turn a 15-point deficit into a 4-point lead by the send of the half.

“Yam was great and Guy Pnini made decisions on the court that calmed us all down,” Goodes explained. “We have a lot of players like that with tremendous amounts of experience that can make a difference. Guy without moving too much can make the important plays. It’s his basketball IQ and at the age fo 38 can still play and enjoy the game. He gives so much of his knowledge to the younger players. They are terrific players who know how to make the right plays.”

Guy Pnini – Photo Credit: FIBA

“Everyone knows what Guy Pnini can do and he doesn’t have to move very far and fast,” Israel captain Gal Mekel said. “He can do easy things like sending a player a ball under the basket. He has a very high IQ and he gives players around him confidence while making the right plays.”

Mekel, who is not known to be such a big scorer turned on the jets in the third quarter with a trio of triples to give Israel an even bigger lead but Poland still had plenty of fight in them down the stretch closing the gap to just 2-points, 63-61 with under a minute left in the game.

“I’m happy that my shots went in today and I always trust doing things that I can do at a high level which is not so much my shooting. However, sometimes you need to bring different things to the table at different times,” Mekel said.

Milicic’s crew were able to bring the lead down and put a legitimate scare into Israel thanks to Olek Balcerowski who will enter the 2022 NBA Draft. From days inside baskets to even a 3-pointer from distance the 21-year old played like a veteran when it counted most.

Olek Balcerowski – Photo Credit: FIBA

“We came out really strong on defense to keep the pace and make them uncomfortable,” Balcerowski said. “That was the plan. The second quarter they came back and we couldn’t make some 3-poinetrs and they were, we were fighting to the end and it was a tough loss.”

Milicic also spoke about how he was able to keep a young team within a minute of a road upset, “This is the heart of this team and young fellows who believe in themselves. We made Israel shoot tough shots but we didn’t secure the defensive rebounds which could have been a game changer.” In fact Israel surprisingly controlled the boards with a 51-42 advantage while grabbing 18 offensive rebounds.

“This wasn’t a complete game from the offensive side but it was a very good defensive one,” Goodes explained. “We had to react quickly and adopt ourselves during the game itself. We made some good decisions and we were able to win the game. The players understood the situation and made it to the free throw line.”

Israel – Photo Credit: FIBA

“In basketball sometimes you may have a plan but when the ball goes into the air it all goes into the garbage and you have to adapt from the start with different things.”

While Yam Madar had an MVP type of performance with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, he also shot blanks from deep going 0/8 and 3/13 overall, but it was his overall play and decision making with a bit of fancy mustard which thrilled the fans and teammates alike.

“Yam is a player with a lot of talent and we have a number of young players who will be part of the National Team over the years to come. I am happy that there is a good connection between them and the players that have been with the National Team for some time,” Mekel said.

Estonia celebrates win over Germany – Photo Credit: FIBA

Now it’s on to Estonia who downed Germany 69-66 in one of a number of upsets that occurred on the opening night of qualifiers (how on earth did Great Britain defeat Greece?) but that discussion as to why is for another day.

“Estonia is strong and even teams like Serbia have lost there as well as others. They can shoot very well from deep and we have to rest a bit and ready for Sunday,” Mekel commented. But what Mekel really knows is that if Israel wants to advance to the World Cup since 1986 all they have to do is… win. because winning in the name of the game.

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