Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Hapoel Beer Sheva 99-75 to take a stranglehold 2-0 lead in their best of 5 Israel Basketball League quarterfinal series. The Reds will look to wrap up the series on Wednesday night when they host Rami Hadar’s squad at the PAIS Arena in the capital city.
Tashawn Thomas was one of six Jerusalem players who scored in double digits as he also clocked in with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds while Tamir Blatt scored 10 points and dished out 10 assists in the win. After being held to only 5 points in game one, Jordan Swing was on fire dropping 29 points in the home loss.
Defense was at a minimum at the start of the game as Jerusalem jumped up to a 16-10 lead midway through the first quarter, however Jordan Swing found his stroke to keep Beer Sheva close, down 27-22 after ten minutes of action. Amare Stoudemire became a factor early on in the second quarter for the capital city Reds, while Jakim Donaldson and Swing paced the hosts. But Feldeine, Blatt and Butler all hit 3-pointers as Jerusalem took a 54-45 lead into halftime.
Tashawn Thomas and Josh Owens did the damage for Jerusalem and Malcolm Griffin scored his first points to lead Oded Katash’s squad to a 24-12 frame as the visitor’s took a 21-point, 78-57 lead into the final period. Griffin and Bar Timor helped Jerusalem hold serve over the course of the fourth quarter to take home a 99-75 victory and grab a 2-0 series lead.
Last Thursday, Katash’s crew won game one 85-68 on the strength of a strong second quarter in which they outscored the visitor’s 28-9. James Feldeine (21 points) and Bar Timor (13 points) led Jerusalem to the victory.
1) Tamir Blatt was fantastic out of the gate for Jerusalem. Whether it was hitting an early triple or handing out one of his 10 assists, the guard glided all over the Beer Sheva floor and was a +30 in the victory. He had pace all night long and was able to sit back and enjoy the final frame from the bench after busting open the game in the 3rd quarter. How important is Blatt to the Reds? Captain Lior Eliyahu spoke about his contribution, “Tamir is the type of player who always looks to make a pass and to help make his teammates better. As a player it’s wonderful to be able to play with him.” Tashawn Thomas also chimed in about the up and coming guard, “That’s my boy and we were together last year. I’m happy we were able to win the game.” Finally, Blatt himself talked about the keys to the victory and his personal performance, “I felt great. Last game I didn’t score any points so today I came more aggressive to the basket and I’m happy that I had a good game. As a point guard I’m always trying to find my teammates and I think we started off well and it carried on later into the game.”
2) Malcolm Griffin made his long awaited debut and played 18 minutes while scoring 7 points. The former AEK guard came over to Jerusalem roughly a month ago as an insurance policy for J’Covan Brown and Chris Johnson who have been dealing with injuries. Well Katash needed to break the glass and cash in the policy as Johnson is still recovering and Brown dislocated a couple of fingers last game after returning to action following an unrelated hand injury. How did Griffin’s teammates sum up his debut? Blatt, “Malcolm is a great guy and he brought a lot of energy and I’m happy he had a good performance.” Thomaspraised #0 “I’m glad for him to get out there and play. It’s been a while since he’s been practicing with us. Unfortunately someone went down and for him to step up, it was big.” James Feldeine also gave his 2 cents, “He has been practicing really well with us and I’m happy he got out there as he’s been with us a couple of weeks now. It’s tough for a guy to just be practicing with a team and it was good to have him out there. He’s a big guard that can defend he missed some easy ones today but he’s a good player.”
Coming into a team close to the end of the season is never simple and being able to adjust to a totally new situation on the fly is definitely not easy, but Griffin got an “A” from Katash, “I liked his energy and it didn’t bother me that he scored or not. He came into a situation that wasn’t so simple as he had been a leading player and all of a sudden he doesn’t play at all. He’s a great team player, is serious during practice and he has always kept in shape so he would be ready to play if the need arose. The most important part of the team this season has been character and he certainly fits that bill.”
What did Griffin think of his first game for the Reds? “It felt like I hadn’t played in 5 weeks. We got the win and after the first half everything came to me naturally.” How was it scoring his first points for the club? “It was a backdoor cut from STAT and it put me in the rhythm for a 3. I know I’ll be better Wednesday I just got to get some more reps and have a couple more good practices before we try to close this thing up.”
3) Tashawn Thomas has been steady and solid all season long both in the Israeli league and the Champions League. Whether it was scoring, rebounding or playing defense the former Hapoel Holon forward has been superb and sometimes doesn’t even know how much impact he has on a game. Thomas didn’t even realize that he had recorded a double-double, “Wow. I didn’t even know I had that but any time I can get a double-double it helps the team.” He also spoke about the keys to the game, “Just being aggressive as we knew they’d play hard and we had to match their intensity. I think we came more ready in our mindset and we took advantage of our size.” Feldeine also looked back at the contest that was, “We knew they would play with a lot of passion and that they would want to win at home. We executed our game plan and played physical but they still had a lot of offensive rebounds in the first half, they missed some easy ones and we took advantage of that.”
Is the series over and will Jerusalem wrap up the series at home on Wednesday night? Captain Eliyahusent a warning out to anyone who believes that the deed is done, “This series isn’t over. Beer Sheva is a tough team and we are well aware of what a team coached by Rami Hadar can bring to the table.” Katash, “Our goal is to end the series in 3 games and it’s clear that our immediate goal is to advance to the Final Four.” Feldeine also spoke about taking care of business, “We just got to play our basketball, our offense and our defense. Coach gives us a lot of freedom on offense but on defense we got to take care of business and make sure we stop the offensive rebounds and win at home.” And when Blatt was asked about closing out the series in 3 games he said, “Hopefully, I believe so.”