After a disappointing loss to Maccabi Rishon Leziyon in their previous matchup, Bnei Hasharon was looking to make a statement in Game 1, showing that they are capable of making the deep playoff run expected of a team with their quality of talent. Coming off an impressive blowout win against Maccabi Ashdod, it was imperative that the team come out and show in the early moments that it is ready to bring that same intensity into the postseason.
Shawn James, who looked focused and ready to play from the moment he entered Hayovel Arena two hours before the game, made sure his defensive presence was felt from the first minute, as he stole an entry pass, and drove the length of the court himself, to get to the free throw line. Maccabi Rishon started the game in a man-to-man full court press, which caused Bnei Hasharon some trouble in the last game. In this game, Bnei Hasharon still struggled slightly against the full court pressure, however, Steele and the rest of the team’s ball handlers seemed significantly more prepared this time around, and were able to keep control of the offense. Maccabi Rishon was very competitive in the first quarter, with Swann posterizing James on a fast break, Raymar Morgan nailing a few jumpers, McGhee providing an inside presence and Dwayne Mitchell taking the ball hard to the rack. Despite struggling a bit coming out of the gate, Bnei Hasharon held on to a 4 point lead, leading 25-21 at the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter opened with Filberto Rivera nailing a huge three. This season, Bnei Hasharon’s biggest runs have typically coincided with Rivera stepping up his game. A player filled with moxie, Rivera resembles a Puerto Rican version of Leandro Barbosa, with the ability to play both guard spots, incredible speed with the ball in his hands and unlimited shooting range. His ability to convert turnovers into points, combined with his lethal three point shooting, can singlehandedly change the momentum of a game. After Rivera hits deep threes, he has a habit of blowing kisses to the crowd, causing the fans to become a factor in the outcome of the game. Despite some deadly shooting by Swann, Bnei Hasharon was able to bring a 17 point lead into the locker room, behind thirteen first half points by Rivera and a quiet thirteen point first half by Nailon. who scores so naturally, that he can put up points without observers even noticing.
Dwayne Mitchell came out of the gate aggressive, scoring on an and-one baseline drive on the first play of the half. His strong drives to the hoop, combined with Morgan’s and Swann’s shooting, were the only strong weapons for Rishon in the first half. However, their success didn’t translate over to the second half of the game. With Steele and Rivera taking a strong command of the offense, and both players nailing jump shots left and right, Bnei Hasharon pulled away. Steele managed to go “On Fire” NBA JAM style, hitting three shots in a row, without any opponents scoring. If only the basketball would have been lit on fire, and it would have been impossible for Steele to miss, the rest of the team could have mentally checked out.
Unfortunately, Bnei Hasharon decided that since they had a commanding lead, they were only required to play 30 minutes of basketball instead of 40. Despite an impressive turnaround “and-one” jumper by Grunfeld, the rest of the team was lulled to sleep by their own success, letting a 22 point lead with 5 minutes to go, dwindle to a 7 point lead with 1:46 remaining. In the press conference after the game, Shawn James said he felt that the team mentally checked out when they had a big lead at the end of the game, and that they have a habit of coming out lackadaisically to start the third quarter over the second half of the season. He acknowledged that the team needs to re-evaluate themselves over the next week, because with the crowd on the road, they won’t be able to go long stretches with poor execution on both ends of the floor. Bnei Hasharon is typically more talented on paper than many of its opponents, however, this can sometimes be the team’s worst enemy as the players sometimes appear bored during parts of the game, and they let their opponents regain some life.
James, who was once considered a raw shot-blocker, has really matured with his offensive game, and is now able to take the ball off the dribble, has several strong post moves, and a vastly improved jumpshot. While he has made incredible strides on his way to becoming a more complete player, he still needs to improve his patience of defense. Far too often, James will jump up for a blocked shot, only to see the driver pass it off for a layup. With his athleticism and length, it would be nearly impossible for smaller players to score in the paint if he stood his ground.
One of the keys to Bnei Hasharon’s playoff success is the ability to play together as a team. With six players reaching double figures, the “Eshet Tours” squad showed that when they play together, they are a tough bunch to beat. What was especially key was the aggressiveness that starter Ben Rice brought from the begining of the game. When Rice is active and establishes himself as a shooting threat, it opens up the paint and allows Bnei Hasharon to get easier looks throughout the game.
Bnei Hasharon will ride down to Rishon Leziyon next Wednesday, looking to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the series. While Bnei Hasharon came away with the W tonight, they did nothing more than take care of their business, winning on their home floor. If the team can show perseverance by moving past their late game struggles, and win a tough game on the road, they may have a legitimate shot at a title. They are the only team that has beaten Maccabi Tel-Aviv so far this season. Either way, this next game should be very exciting, so be sure to tune in!
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Click here to see this article on Bnei Hasharon’s team website.