Israel lost the first three games of its EuroBasket European Basketball Championship Group A games, yet retains a realistic chance of qualifying for the next round.
Israel must beat Belgium tonight and Germany tomorrow night in Ljubljana to scrape into the next stage with two wins and three loses, unless Belgium surprises France or Great Britain upsets both Germany and Ukraine. (If Britain beats only Germany, Israel will have to beat Belgium by at least five points.)
The campaign opened on Wednesday with a game that Israel should have won, but ultimately conceded 71-75 to Britain in overtime.
After the unfancied Brits stunned Israel in the opening quarter, the Israelis gradually clawed their way back and led by five points going into the fourth quarter, only for Lior Eliyahu and Omri Casspi to miss six free throws in the dying minutes, allowing Britain to level the score at 66-66 at the end of regulation time. Then the British team scored eight unanswered points in overtime to seal the game.
Israel’s second defeat, Thursday evening, 67-74 to Ukraine, was a more one-sided affair, as the Ukrainians dominated from the outset. Trailing 26-35 at halftime, the Israelis managed to narrow the deficit to a single point midway through the fourth, but ultimately the Ukrainians proved far too powerful as they stepped up a gear.
Another blow came later Thursday evening, with the news that Alex Tyus had aggravated a persistent groin injury during the game, in which he played for only eight minutes, forcing the Texan-born center to sit out the rest of the tournament.
On Friday, France completely outplayed Israel in an emphatic 82-63 win Friday in Ljubljana.
The French had already cruised into a 38-29 halftime lead before pummeling Israel with 10 unanswered points in two whirlwind minutes of dunks and fast breaks to extend their lead to 22 in third quarter.
With the result beyond doubt, the Israeli players showed their mettle with a concerted push in the fourth quarter – one of the few encouraging signs to emerge from a so-far unsuccessful campaign.
Casspi and Eliyahu, with 14 points apiece, were Israel’s only players to shine. For France, Alexis Ajinca ran the game from the opening buzzer, and was the team’s top scorer with 13 as coach Vincent Collet was afforded the luxury of letting some of his NBA stars rest.
Israel’s coach, Arik Shivek, must now inspire his charges to two wins if the campaign is to continue.