With shooting guard Yotam Halperin struggling, Israel's national basketball team is looking for a way to recover from its loss in its EuroBasket opener earlier this week when it faces Estonia at home tomorrow.
After Halperin played 13 mediocre first-half minutes in Israel's 75-69 loss to Montenegro in Budocnost, head coach Arik Shivek inserted Raviv Limonad to start the third quarter. Limonad pressed well on defense and helped the team on fast breaks, scoring easy baskets in transition as the team turned a small deficit to a 17-point lead. But Shivek went with a taller lineup in the final quarter, playing Guy Pnini in the shooting guard position, and the team fell apart.
"Everyone knows how much I love Yotam, but he just wasn't producing," Shivek said on Wednesday.
Oded Katash, the assistant coach, said that Halperin in the number-two position has been one of the squad's strong points, but that Halperin - who was sidelined by injury - was not able to prepare properly for the qualifying tournament. "I believe we'll see the real Yotam yet in this tournament," he added.
Israel has been blessed in the past with shooting guards like Mickey Berkowitz, Doron Jamchi, Or Goren, Doron Shefa, Erez Hazan, Amir Katz and Ari Rosenberg. It was just a matter of choosing one. But until Halperin recovers fully, this year's squad may continue to flounder.
That struggle was evident in the three-point numbers in the Montenegro contest. While the hosts opened 0-for-12 from beyond the arc, they finished 9-for-29. In contrast, Israel shot just two-for-eight for the whole night. "Because of game situations, we didn't get enough shooting opportunities," explained Shivek after the loss.
"The national team has no problem at the number-two position - the problem is the use of its players," said one Super League coach, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Arik should have stayed with Raviv, who had an amazing third quarter. Pnini can play the two position only in certain situations, and certainly not at the Euroleague level, not even alongside Omri Casspi and Lior Eliyahu."
Pnini, Eliyahu and Alex Tyus, he added, all need other players to create scoring opportunities for them, and that is not the case with the current lineup. Katash said that if Halperin doesn't return to his former self, his shooting guard options will be Pnini, Limonad, Yuval Naimy and perhaps Dagan Yavzuri.
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