Israel ran the full gamut of emotions in another thrilling game here at the Eural Trans Gas European Championship for U20 Men.
After beating Serbia & Montenegro at the buzzer in the quarter-finals, a strong Greek side stood in the way of Israel and a berth in the final. Once again, Israel faced a size deficit against their opponents and Yotmar Halperin was still feeling the effects of his ankle injury.
Halperin was more mobile than against Serbia & Montenegro, but still restricted to shooting jumpers. Little did it matter. He made all 6 of his three-point attempts as well as 12/14 free throws for a game-high 32 points.
In the quarter-finals, Israel came from behind to win. Against Greece, they led for virtually the entire contest and had to withstand a furious rally in the 4th quarter that went right down to the last seconds.
Although Greece had a very real chance to win, it was a sub par performance from them. They were lacklustre in the opening half and unable to take advantage of their clear inside superiority. 11 offensive rebounds came Greece’s way in the first half, yet they only scored 22 points. The shooting was not much better and the team missed 8 three-pointers (2/10) and 9 free throws (7/16).
Israel were not complaining at Greece's profligacy. They took a 7-point lead (36:29) into halftime and after the break were able to consolidate the advantage. Halperin’s third 3-pointer of the contest gave his side a 50:34 lead and Greece looked down and out.
Enter Greek center Dimitrios Mavroeidis.
With star guard Konstantinos Vasileiadis performing well below his best, it was Mavroeidis who carried his team for 15 minutes.
The 208 cm center expertly exploited Israel’s inside weakness. He accounted for 11 third quarter points and at the end of the period, the lead was reduced to 14-points, 62:48.
Israel were attacked by a case of “deer in the headlights” syndrome in the 4th and the game swung 360 degrees. Mavroeidis scored the opening 6 points of the quarter and Vasileiadis also came alive. They combined together to outscore Israel 13-0 and Greece took their first lead of the game, 62:63.
On the next play, Mavroeidis fouled out and he took most of Greece’s hopes of winning along with him to the bench. At least, that’s how it seemed.
As soon as the Greek big guy left the game, Israel immediately reaffirmed their superiority and with 1 minute 30 to go, were 82:72 in front.
But fate had one last storyline for this game and it came in the form of Nikolaos Papanikolaou. Averaging just 2 minutes per game, Papanikolaou came in and nailed 2 huge three-pointers to bring Greece back to within 1-point, 83:82.
Halperin had a chance to extend the lead but in what proved to be his only error of the game, he uncharacteristically missed 2 free throws.
18 seconds were left when Israel’s Raviv Limonad stepped to the line with the opportunity to increase his team’s lead to 3. He made one of two, but Lior Eliyahu grabbed the offensive board to give his side a fresh 24. Limonad was fouled again, this time intentionally and went to the line for 2 more free throws.
But still the drama was not over.
|Konstantinos Vasileiadis was not at his best against Israel|
He missed both and luckily for Israel, they retained possession thanks to the intentional foul call. This time it was Halperin who took the inbounds and waited for the inevitable foul. He nailed both free throws, his 31st and 32nd points of the game, and Israel celebrated another remarkable victory.
Halperin was again the center of attention for Israel, but it was truly a team performance that won the day and every Israeli player chipped in when necessary. Lior Eliyahu (16 points) and Limonad (18 points) also deserve special mention for coming up with key plays down the stretch.
Greece will be left to rue a game that was well beneath their capabilities. Vasileiadis had 26 points, but made just 1/8 three-pointers.