Hapoel Eilat slipped by Hapoel Jerusalem 81-78 at the PAIS Arena in the nation’s capital. Sharon Drucker’s Red Sea squad raced out to a 48-33 lead after twenty minutes on the strength of Suleiman Braimoh and Elijah Bryant but Jerusalem clawed back thanks to a fine shooting display by James Feldeine and inside scoring by Tashawn Thomas. However, the visitor’s hung on to record the 3-point victory. Braimoh led the way for Eilat with 19 points, Bryant added 14 points and Jonathan Skoljebrand chipped in with 12 points in the win. Feldeine dropped 24 points for Jerusalem while Thomas scored 18 points and Amare Stoudemire added 12 points in the defeat,
Stoudemire put down a thundering dunk and Jerusalem welcomed back Chris Johnson from injury with a bucket while Bryant paced Eilat over the first five minutes of the contest as Fredric Bourdion and Avi Ben Chimol helped the visitor’s to a 21-15 lead after the first quarter. Braimoh and Rafi Menco extended Eilat’s advantage to 36-22 midway through the second quarter as Johnson and Thomas tried to keep the Reds close. But JP Tokoto made sure the Red Sea City side went into halftime sporting a 15-point, 48-33 lead.
Feldeine came out of the break on fire and hit four 3-pointers but Bryant continued his scoring spree as Jerusalem dented the Eilat advantage to 56-45 with 6:05 left in the third quarter. Thomas scored at will from the inside but Skoljebrand drilled home a trio of triples to send Sharon Drucker’s squad into the final frame up 71-60.
King James continued his second half revival as his sharp shooting combined with Stoudemire’s presence cut the Eilat lead to just 1point, 75-74 with four minutes remaining in the game. A Feldeine dunk gave the Reds a 78-77 lead but Braimoh immediately answered with a bucket of his own as Eilat regained the upper hand with less than two minutes to go. Feldeine then missed a pair of free throws as well as Jerusalem’s last two chances as Eilat escaped with a hard fought 81-78 win.
1) Eilat played almost a perfect game against Jerusalem and defeated them in the Pais Arena for the second time this season. Sharon Drucker has done a tremendous job in getting the most out of his team especially one that has only three foreigners in JP Tokoto, Suleiman Braimoh and Elijah Bryant. The 81 points scored by Eilat were split evenly between those three and the Israelis. One of those Sabras was Jonathan Skoljebrand who drained 12 points all coming on 3-pointers, three of which in the third quarter to keep Jerusalem’s comeback at bay. “Jonathan deserves a lot of credit. I may have made a mistake by not playing him more this season. He’s an amazing person and a terrific player. We would never release a player like him who also gives so much in the lockerroom. You can never release a player like him.”
2) JP Tokoto who took home the All Star game’s MVP award spoke about one of the important keys to the victory for Eilat which was the rebounding. Despite getting out rebounded 39-29, Eilat was able to score 15 points off of their fast break, “We played together, rebounding the ball was huge as they are a good offensive rebounding team. They’re big and strong so keeping them off of the boards was important to us. We were able to get out in transition and get easy points. When we got the rebound we got the ball ahead without too many dribbles. They do send 4-5 guys to the boards so when we do rebound, it was easy to get out and run.” The bottom line? “It was a great win. Two wins in Jerusalem is tough.”
3) Chris Johnson returned to action after coming back from his second injury of the season and although his minutes were limited it was important for him to be back into the swing of things for Jerusalem as the season heads into the stretch run. “It felt good just to be out there. I was kind of nervous as this was my first game back and I wish we would have won,” Johnson began. “They made some tough shots and they opened it up in the first quarter as we played lackadaisical. That’s a good team and a dangerous team. They play with their personnel which include good cutters and good slashers. We can learn from it and keep building.” Is first place now out of the question? “There’s five games left and anything can happen. We’ll continue to play our game and just keep getting better in practice. Anything is possible.” And some final thoughts on the contest that was, “Throughout the game they made runs and where we had to get stops. It very frustrating as it was my first game back and I wanted to win. We’ll just keep moving forward.” Coach Katash was pleased with his performance, “I’m very happy that Chris played quality minutes in his return. He’s still not in game shape and only had one full practice before the game but he came in and gave us something that had been missing.”
Jerusalem just didn’t show up from the opening tip and only go things going in the second half. As I said to Tashawn Thomas, it’s tough to win when you only play twenty minutes. “We started off slow for the second game in a row and we messed in too many times on defense. We fought back but we couldn’t pull it out. I don’t really know exactly what it is but it’s something that we need to fix. We all know that it’s a problem and we’re going to try to fix it.” Katash also talked about the slow start and not even being able to recognize the team on the court, “We’ve had some bad halves this season and the first half against Eilat was just horrible. We didn’t play our style and just like Tashawn had said this has happened a number of times where we began slowly or just weren’t focused on the task at hand. Often this happens at home where perhaps we are more comfortable. We didn’t play with enough passion in the first half and I didn’t even recognize the team. But I’m the one who is ultimately responsible.”
Sharon Drucker has been just spectacular in guiding Eilat this season and there’s no question that he has his fingerprints all over the success story from the south which includes high quality Israeli players. “We played a terrific game both on the offensive and defensive sides of the court,” Drucker began. “We controlled the game but they almost pulled off the comeback. However, we showed great character especially with our team’s Israeli players. I’ve always believed in the Israeli players and they are the ones who lead the team just like when I won the ULEB Cup with Jerusalem with 9 Israelis and only 3 foreigners.”