I was always suspicious of players who are loaded with talent, but bring it to the court only once in a while. They can't be trusted.
Game 4 between Hapoel Jerusalem and Barak Netanya on Monday presented two such players, respectively: Courtney Fells and Deron Washington. For some thirty minutes the two multi-dimensional number 3's sunk their own teams in every imaginable manner. Netanya's Washington began the fourth quarter with two points from the free throw line and ten missed field shots; Fells had the same stats, minus the two free throw points.
In the last quarter, without due warning, both players found their mojo. Washington speeded up court to end fastbreaks with impressive dunks and added an ever-so-crucial three pointer; Fells buried three-pointer after three-pointer. It all went down to the last seconds, when Fells – naturally – could win the game from the free throw line. He missed both shots. Obviously, one can't count on him. If he were more reliable, he would probably be part of a playoff series in another far-off country.
Netanya's comeback from a 2-0 deficit in the series is an immense psychological victory. One can hardly miss out on the mental difference between the two teams: Netanya never stopped believing even when it trailed, while Jerusalem never had self-belief even when it led. Netanya enjoys every moment, Jerusalem suffers constantly.
As in every season recently, Jerusalem can't handle the pressure, the expectations, the fans, the huge budget and its image as a great team, an image which is entirely divorced from reality. Its coach, Sharon Druker, hit the nail on the head after the final whistle when he said: It's easy to be the underdog. It's hard to be Hapoel Jerusalem.
In order to save the season Jerusalem must dig in and find mental strength that simply wasn't there this season and revive its back court. Raviv Limonad and Ron Steele didn't show up Monday; Meir Tapiro and Lior Liphshitz made their presence felt only sporadically, and we've already discussed Fells. Netanya's home court is far from being an ideal place for a resurrection, but it is there that Jerusalem must wage the battle to keep its season alive.
Two quarter final series will be decided on Thursday, with Eilat and Rishon also playing a decisive fifth game. Once again, it is time to thank the genius who thought up the idea of basketball series. These best-of-fives include everything: drama, psychology, emotional overloads and bruises. And, yes, they end with winners and losers.
On Monday, as a popular Israeli song goes, Hapoel lost again. One can hardly wait for Thursday to see how this drama unfolds.
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