Hapoel Tel Aviv played good enough basketball last night to beat most teams, but it simply wasn't enough against David Blatt's undefeated Dynamo St. Petersburg.
The Russian side had too many big guns and got the better of the Israelis 96-85 in the FIBA Europe League match at Ussishkin, but Hapoel can hold its head high. Coming off a good win in Cyprus, Hapoel played with great intensity and hustle and did well to restrict Dynamo to just 38 points in the first half.
The Group D leaders ripped off the leash in the second halftime exploding for 58 points compared to Hapoel's 45.
Vladimir Veremeenko led Dynamo with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting from the field. Kelly McCarty, who was the MVP of last season's ULEB Cup final with Hapoel Jerusalem, added 15, and ex-Maccabi Tel Aviv forward David Bluthenthal had 13.
Kelvin Gibbs paced Hapoel with 25 and Curtis McCants added 21 points and eight assists.
The match began with both sides showing signs of nerves; Dynamo racing to a 5-0 lead before Hapoel responded to make it 6-5. From there it was basket for basket as Hapoel rode on the back of Samo Udrih's eight points took a slender 23-22 lead into the second quarter.
For much of the second quarter Hapoel struggled to find the basket and it was only Dynamo's nine turnovers for the term keeping them in it. The Israelis found some rhythm on offense late in the quarter, capping it off with Udrih's massive three-pointer that sailed through the net as the shot clock expired. That gave Tel Aviv a 40-38 half time lead.
In the third quarter, Dynamo stepped on the gas, displaying the form that has seen it the only undefeated side in the competition.
Veremeenko dominated in the paint in the third as he scored 12. With the Hapoel offense drying up, Dynamo went on a 12-point run to increase its lead to 75-60 at the end of the third.
Hapoel retaliated in the start of the fourth and tried its best to whittle down the lead, but having to resort to speculative three-pointers wasn't the best way to go.
Blatt praised Veremeenko's play afterwards. "I was really pleased by his game tonight. He has the potential to be a first-rounder in the NBA Draft and is an exciting talent."
Overall, Blatt was pleased by his side's performance. "It was a great game, especially the second half, but we had 26 turnovers, 15 alone in the first half, which simply is too much."
Bluthenthal was also happy to return to Israel. "It was great to be back. [Ussishkin is] a tough place to play and we were good for most of the game. I was a bit nervous beforehand but they were only good nerves."
Hapoel coach Effi Birenboim, while disappointed with the result, was pleased by the way his side fought so tenaciously. "We learned a lot tonight and hopefully will improve as a result of it. We had a lapse for three minutes, and against a side like Dynamo, that is all they need."