16 fourth-quarter points by Meir Tapiro, including the game-winning shot, gave Israel an important win in an ugly game, 79-77. Now the game in Bulgaria is a do-or-die for the EC ticket.
It was one of the ugliest games ever seen in Metro-West, including the ones in which Ra'ananna was still in the minor leagues. Only a great and heroic final period of Meir Tapiro saved Israel and now a win in Varna on Wednesday will send the Blue-Whites to Belgarde.
Israel showed great will to fight for every loose ball, but sturggled offensively and couldn't buy a hoop. Vitols with 9 and Grafs with 6 off the bench gave the visitors a 22-9 lead after 10 minutes.
Israel scored the first 9 points of the second quarter, but since this point and on, it was mostly a free throw battle, which was controlled by the fantastic Stelmahers, whose three-pointer with the glass put Latvia 36-29 ahead at intermission.
This quarter started with a 10-0 Israeli run which gave them the lead, but Stelmahers, mostly from the line, put his team within shooting strike. A three-point play by Lubin secured Israel's edge in the end of the third, 55-54.
The stage was set for Meir Tapiro's personal exhibition. It started with back-to-back buries from downtown, and finished with 10 straight points. Vitols answerred with a three, but Tapiro wasn't done yet, and put Israel ahead. However, 3 three-pointers, 2 by Timermanis, tied the game at 75.
Tapiro made two free throws, but Grafs answerred with a monster follow-dunk and a block over Green. He could've been the hero of the night, but his layup rimmed out and turned the ball over to Israel for the last 30 seconds.
You don't have to be a genius in order to guess who took Israel's last shot. Tapiro almost travelled, but a moment before he landed he threw an amazing Tapiro-like jumper which saw nothing but net. Stelmahers had the final chance to tie, but he missed, and Israel survived the scare, 79-77.
In the other game tonight, Bulgaria completed a sweep over Portugal, 87-72, and climbed to the first place of the group, with a 3-1 record. A double-win over Bulgaria, should be enough for Israel for at least the second place and the European Championship ticket.
Heroic Evening for Tapiro