A first-time finalist has written its name into European basketball history as Hapoel Jerusalem defeated Real Madrid 72-83 at the ULEB Cup Final in Charleroi, Belgium on Tuesday! Hapoel overcame the most successful club in European history to become just the second Israeli team ever to lift a continental trophy. Almost 2,000 fans from Jerusalem, part of a sellout crowd of 6,500 at the Spiroudome, danced in the aisles to celebrate Hapoel's victory, which was based on a monster third quarter that saw their game-long lead soar to 15 points. Madrid rallied to within 5 in the closing minutes, but then ran out of time. Kelly McCarty led Hapoel with 22 points, Will Solomon and Doron Sheffer added 15 each, while Tunji Awojobi had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Elmer Bennett led Madrid with 22 points. In addition to becoming the second ULEB Cup titlest, Hapoel earned the right to participate in the Euroleague next season.
Real Madrid controlled the opening tip and Kambala made a layup to open the scoring, but Awojobi immediately answered at the other end. The matchups lived up to expectations, with McCarty guarding Madrid top gun Herreros and Mario Stojic going on-one-on on Hapoel superstar Solomon. Real Madrid looked for points in the paint, but Hapoel soon started to power the boards with 3 quick offensive rebounds. A three-pointer by Solomon and a turnaround layup by Kokizaro gave Hapoel a 6-7 lead after 5 minutes. It was a intense game with both teams hustling for every ball. Real Madrid was off-target, missing 4 shots in a row to go scoreless for almost 3 minutes, but Hapoel paid its price for its aggressive man-to-man defense, as the Israeli team entered the foul bonus after 6 minutes. Real Madrid called timeout, as Hapoel kept a slim lead on its second chance points. Solomon had to go to the bench after picking up his second foul, but 2 free throws by Kozikaro gave Hapoel an 8-11 lead. Bennett, who had been scoreless until then, added 4 quick points which ignited a 7-0 run capped by a dunk from Antonis Fotsis, enough to help Madrid regain the lead at 15-11. Solomon had the final word in the opening period, scoring 4 points including a big three-pointer to tie the game, 15-15, after 10 minutes.
Hapoel faced serious foul trouble once Solomon picked up his third foul in the opening play of the second quarter, but he had time to drill his third bomb from downtown before returning to the bench. That didn't stop the Israelis, however, as McCarty made a mid-range jumper in a 0-9 opening run which gave Hapoel a 15-24 lead after a short jumper by Doron Sheffer. Real Madrid struggled against Hapoel's 2-3 zone defense, missing 5 three-pointers in the opening 4 minutes of this period, enough for coach Julio Lamas to call an urgent timeout. Herreros finally hit one from beyond the arc, and then Madrid took control of the defense rebounds. Still, Hapoel found easy baskets, as a layup by Sheffer and a five-meter jumper by Awojobi helped them to keep a safe margin at 21-28 after 17 minutes. Real Madrid scored only 6 points in more than 7 minutes due to Hapoel's defensive aggressiveness, and even when Alex Mumbru made a three-pointer, Moshe Mizrahi matched that in the other end. Both teams carried on exchanging baskets, with Awojobi being Hapoel's go-to guy, but Bennett came to the rescue for Madrid, following a three-pointer with 2 foul shots in the final minute to bring Real Madrid within 33-37 at the half. Madrid just made 8 of 26 shots in the first half, while Hapoel grabbed 8 offensive rebounds.
Real Madrid tried a big lineup with mobile big men Burke and Antonio Bueno after halftime, but Hapoel was having none of it. McCarty went on fire early in the quarter following a mid-range jumper with 2 three-pointers, one of them beating the shot clock, scoring all 8 points in a 2-8 run which extended Hapoel's lead to double digits at 35-45. Madrid woke up and found a go-to guy in captain Herreros, who drilled a jumper and a three-pointer to make it a five-point game at 40-45, just as Solomon picked up his fourth foul. Once again, however, Hapoel was undaunted. Sheffer made a layup in penetration while McCarty added a huge four-point play for a 42-55 lead, while Awojobi remained unstoppable. The game had already turned into a physical battle. Still, Madrid struggled to score, as Hapoel's defense limited the Spaniards to just one point in more than 3 minutes, while a three-pointer by Sheffer pushed the Isrealis' lead to 43-58. Everything seemed to work as planned for Hapoel in both ends of the court, including a 2-3 zone defense that saw Madrid shoot off-target from downtown. A drive to the basket by Erez Katz and yet another basket by Sheffer were enough to give Hapoel a 53-68 lead entering the fourth quarter as McCarty made a buzzer-beating fade away jumper. McCarty and Sheffer combined to score 24 of the team's 31 points in this period.
Real Madrid needed a quick comeback to get back in the game, and used twin point guards playing with Bennett and Lucas Victoriano, who had entered the game late in the third period. Meanwhile, Hapoel kept its zone defense, which turned out to be the main key of the game. Both teams went scoreless for almost 2 minutes until Kambala stepped up with 8 quick points in consecutive possessions to bring Real Madrid within single digits at 61-70. Solomon had already returned to the floor, while a long two-pointer by Antonis Fotsis forced coach Sharon Drucker to call timeout at 63-70 with less than 7 minutes to go. It worked, as the Israelis switched back-to-back defense, while Mizrahi made a three-point play for a 63-73 scoreboard. Kambala, who was the only offensive force for Madrid, was fouled out, but a shot from downtown by Fotsis and 2 free throws Bennett helped close the gap to 70-75 with 2 minutes left. Solomon missed a three, but Awojobi grabbed another key offensive board which allowed Sheffer to drill a mid-range jumper. Fotsis matched on the other end with 2 free throws, but when Bennett missed a driving layup, McCarty grabbed the rebound, drew a foul with 38.3 seconds to go and sealed the win from the foul line. Hapoel was a well-deserved ULEB Cup champion!
Tuesday, April 13, 2004