After a very weak start to the game, Israel almost magically recovered and won the elimination game against Slovenia with only two points, 78-76, this last Eurobasket afternoon in Luleå.
Israel last qualified for the quarter-finals of a European Championship in 1983, while Slovenia had never got that far in the competition. The stakes were high and so were nerves. Nonetheless the teams produced an absolutely thrilling game that went right down to the final seconds.
Israel began the game disastrously only opening their scoring account after 3 minutes. Slovenia on the other hand were unstoppable with Boris Gorenc and Bostjan Nachbar torching Israel for a combined 24 first quarter points.
Israel found their feet in the second quarter with forward Yaniv Green particularly impressing inside. The Israelis slowly worked their way back into the contest and by the end of the second, the score was 43-37 in Slovenia's favour.
|Tal Burstein was the hero for Israel|
The third quarter saw a complete turnaround and as Israel grew in confidence, Slovenia were the exact opposite. Israel took the lead in the third minute and built a lead of their own, 60-53 at the end of the period.
Slovenia were mentally out of the game but they dug deep to make a run at Israel and take a 2-point lead with time winding down in the last quarter. It was clear that the game would go down to the wire and that is exactly what happened.
Yoav Saffar hit a three-point shot with just 1 minute on the clock to regain the lead for Israel, 76-75. Ivica Jurkovic found himself on the free-throw line with the next play, but could only make 1 out of 2 to tie the game.
21 seconds remained on the clock when Israel inbounded the ball, and they went straight to star player Tal Burstein. Burstein has become the team's leader and he showed tonight that he is more than capable of handling that responsibility. He calmly dribbled the ball at the top of the key and with 5 seconds to go, made his move. Working his way into the lane, he hit a short jump shot to give his team the lead.
Slovenia had 2 seconds to try for a miracle but it wasn't enough and Israel's joy was evident in their celebrations which lasted long after the final buzzer.