By Stefan Djordjevic/ email@example.com
Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem is a club with a long history but 2014 was the year they decided to go ‘all in’, start a new era and aim for the top. They moved to a new arena, reformed the team and have since won three Israeli Cups and two Israeli League trophies but it was a different story in European competitions. The last European title Hapoel won was ULEB Cup back in 2004 but 15 years later, they are aiming for another one and are on the right path so far.
Hapoel has been one of the title-favorites since the start of the 2018-19 Basketball Champions League campaign and the team has justified it over and over again. If there were any doubters, Hapoel’s 79-75 win over the reigning champion AEK in the first game of the season and on the road must have set them straight.
The Israeli squad proved to be an ‘offensive expedition’ leading the stat sheet in points, rebounds, assists and total efficiency rating. In fact, they set a record for points scored in the regular season banking as much as 1265. They finished the group stage at the second spot with a 12-2 record losing only to Telenet Giants Antwerp and AEK in their second clashes of the season. Those 12 wins are a joint-best for a team in their first BCL season, Monaco and Besiktas won the same number in 2016-17. What makes the feat even more impressive is that they did it in Group C which ended up having four teams in the quarterfinals.
Hapoel’s roster is well-balanced and full of well-known names but a few stand out and have taken over the leading role. The 30-year-old James Feldeine has been the team’s leading scorer averaging 16.2 points and has taken the matter in his own hands more than once during the crunch time. He was no stranger to ‘monster games’ as well logging one of the best performances ever seen with 35 points including nine triples and 39 efficiency rating against CEZ Nymburk.
Feldeine shoulders a lot but he’s not alone by any chance. Amar’e Stoudemire turned 36 years old and is playing limited minutes but the former NBAer takes over the game when he steps on the court, especially in the paint. J’Covan Brown has shown himself as the ‘x-factor’ more than once catching fire and taking the matter into his own hands. They have highly experienced players but the true playmaker for Hapoel is Tamir Blatt who at just 21 years of age connects all the pieces. The youngster is the front-runner for the best young player and has been one of the best passers this season. In fact, he became one of the three players in BCL history to dish 10+ assists in multiple playoff games.
Hapoel marched through the Round of 16 after beating Neptunas Klaipeda in both games by a total margin of 32. They’ve further proved their rebound dominance by grabbing 40+ rebounds for the tenth time in the ongoing BCL campaign. The Israelis made it to the quarterfinals and waiting for them there was Iberostar Tenerife, the 2017 BCL champions and Hapoel’s hardest test yet.
The Spaniards have been in a bit of a slump lately in all competitions just barely making it into the BCL quarterfinals by surviving Promitheas. Hapoel had a great first half and it seemed as they would record a routine win but then Tenerife ‘unleashed their inner beast’.
They completely stopped the Israeli squad’s offense for full six minutes and took over the game with a 17-0 run. Tenerife allowed Hapoel only ten points in the third quarter which is their lowest this season. Not only that, but they matched Hapoel on every turn and answered with the same force on every level. However, when it was most-needed, Feldeine sparked a comeback while Brown nailed the dagger which gave the Israeli team a two-point lead (75-73)in front of the rematch.
“I think the third quarter was something unique. We didn’t score for the first six minutes, it was a 17-0 run, and it’s not something that happens every day, every game. But we responded good. Obviously, Colton Iverson with his aggressiveness and offensive rebounding is something that we need to solve before the next game”, Hapoel coach Oded Kattash said.
The Final Four participant will be decided in Game 2 which is scheduled for Wednesday (3/4) in Spain and judging by the first clash, the fans are in for a treat…
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League