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Israel erase 15-point deficit to defeat Poland in Tel Aviv
TEL AVIV (Israel) - Israel swept Poland in the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Qualifiers, and it seems that they are enjoying playing against the red-and-white, as Guy Goodes' men tipped off their FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 European Qualifiers campaign with a 69-61 triumph.
It was a game of two coaches trying to outsmart each other with various defensive schemes. Poland were trapping early and showing their 1-3-1 zone late in the game, but it was Israel's matchup zone that tortured the opponent more, despite a slow start, in which Poland owned a 21-6 lead late in the first quarter.
Turning point: Israel scored on four straight possessions at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second. Getting their offense together allowed them to get their defense together, with Poland scoring 21 in the first frame, but held to 18 over the next two.
Israel switched, mixed it up with matchup zone, trapped on the low post, and opened up a 12-point lead at 61-49 with five minutes to play.
Poland made it a game by hitting back-to-back three-pointers with two minutes to play - which came as a big surprise after they had gone 5-of-31 from beyond the arc in the first 38 minutes.
But with the game on the line at 63-61, it was the line that saved Israel. Gal Mekel and Jake Cohen went 4-of-4 from the charity stripe in the final minute, opening up a 67-61 lead. Once Jakub Garbacz missed back-to-back three-pointers with less than 30 seconds left, it was only down to Tomer Ginat to set the final score with a layup.
Game hero: No matter what happens, coach Goodes knows he can just turn to Guy Pnini to come in and relax the nerves of the team. Pnini is 38, but still so influential; Israel were a +21 team with him on the floor. Pnini did a bit of everything: 9 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, all done off the bench.
Honorable mention goes to Poland's big guy Aleksander Balcerowski. He had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 6 blocks on the day.
Stats don't lie: While Israel's 25-of-68 shooting from the field isn't exactly turning heads, Poland's 20-of-70 , including 7-of-36 from deep won't win a game anywhere, especially not in front of a packed house in Tel Aviv's Shlomo Group Arena.
Bottom line: They always play close games, but Israel always ends up on top. The third straight single-digit win for Israel over Poland puts them in the driver's seat in this matchup, and getting the layup at the buzzer could be all-important in terms of the tiebreaker at the end of the First Round.
They said: "We definitely have to learn some things but we also lost a little bit our composure, we got one player injured and that shortened our rotation, and shooting 15 percent from three it was very difficult to stay in the game. We almost came back at the end because these young guys of ours believe in what we are doing, but we didn't manage to secure the defensive rebounds there. I think that would have been a game-changer." - Poland head coach Igor Milicic
"All games at the beginning of windows are tough and especially against a new team with a new coach and a new system. They were very aggressive at the start, they were trapping and doing other stuff on defense that it took us a while to adjust to. It's a good thing that it took us only one quarter and then the second unit came off the bench and gave us fresh energy. I am really happy with what the guys did and it's very important to start the window with a win." - Israel head coach Guy Goodes
"It wasn't pretty, but we wanted the win more than anything and we got it, so we're happy. In the first quarter they came out super aggressive and we made a few mistakes. But when we matched their intensity we got into our flow and it was more difficult for them to play against our set offense." - Israel point guard Gal Mekel