By Johnny Askounis/ [email protected]
Starting the fourth run in the Basketball Champions League with three losses in a row and a head-coaching change, it did not look good for Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem. Three months and four wins later, the Israeli club is one step away from a berth to the Round of 16.
Storming back from 0-3 to 3-3 in the Regular Season secured the second seed in Group B, thus the home-court advantage in the best-of-three Play-In series opposite Prometey. The team based in Jerusalem benefited in a big way with dunks, triples, and more all over the place at Pais Arena Wednesday. The first quarter generated a record-breaking scoring outburst en route to the convincing home win.
“It was very important for us to stay aggressive from the first minute to the end. We did it. Shots falling always helps. It’s 1-0. That’s it. It’s a best-of-three,” noted head coach Yotam Halperin putting things in perspective during the postgame press conference following Game 1.
Halperin, 37, took over head coaching duties after the dismissal of Oren Amiel in late October. He was hired as sporting director for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2018, after retiring as a player. As the play-caller, his side has prevailed in all four BCL contests and won seven out of ten in Israel’s Winner League. The 9-4 overall record tops the domestic table.
The start versus the Ukraine champions was particularly impressive. The 40 points in the first quarter set a new Champions League record for most points in the first ten minutes. It was also a joint-high for the most points in any quarter of a BCL game matching fellow Israeli team Ironi Nahariya putting up 40 points in the second quarter against the Bakken Bears in January 2017.
“What can we say? They started the game very well. They scored nine threes in the first quarter. Most of them were open. And I can say we lost the game in the first quarter,” confessed Prometey forward Oleksandr Lypovyy, “We should analyze this and go to the second game stronger both mentally and physically.”
Hapoel Jerusalem went on to become the fourth team exceeding the 60-point mark in the first half of a BCL game. Connecting 16/32 three-pointers, the team made more than 15 triples in two of their last three games in FIBA’s top European club continental competition after sinking 15 only twice in the previous 45 contests.
“I feel like we came out with high energy and very intensive. When you play with high energy, the shots fall,” said Adam Ariel following his season-high 24 points powered by 8/12 field goals, including six three-pointers, “That happened today and gave us confidence but we need to remember it’s a series and it’s only 1-0. The Ukraine team has a lot of quality. We need to be ready for next week.”
The offense has been a major difference comparing the three losses to the ensuing four wins. After averaging 72 points per contest in the first three games of the 2021-22 edition of the Basketball Champions League, Hapoel Jerusalem has bounced back with 88.3 points per win in the next four encounters.
The great turnaround since the 0-3 start potentially halted next week in Ukraine would bring both teams back to Pais Arena for a deciding Game 3. The team eventually reaching two wins will join Group K of the Round of 16 alongside Unicaja and U-BT Cluj Napoca. Also jumping out of the Play-Ins, Igokea m:tel or Filou Oostende will complete the four-team field.
One way away from reaching the Round of 16, Hapoel Jerusalem can earn the opportunity to return to the BCL quarterfinals. Looking back on the previous campaigns, the quarterfinal stage was the ceiling in 2018-19 and 2019-20 before suffering a Regular Season exit last season.
Photo Credit: Basketball Champions League
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