Real Madrid took the upper hand in its Group C duel with with Hapoel Jersualem by claiming a commanding 87-74 victory on the road Monday night behind the shared efforts of Aleksandar Djordjevic and Raul Lopez. The two Madrid point guards combined for 36 points while leading a defensive effort that held Hapoel to just 49 points after it won the first quarter 25-20.
The scoring of Djordjevic and Lopez offset that of Hapoel point guard Junior Blakwell, with 25 points, and the inside dominance of Kebu Stewart, who put up 18 points and 13 rebounds.
The game, postponed due to security problems from the second week of the Euroleague season, was the first of two the teams will play this week. The rematch is on Thursday in Madrid.
It was Hapoel Jerusalem that postponed an Isreali League game this weekend to prepare for the arrival of Real Madrid. But on Monday night it was Madrid, coming of a stinging Spanish League loss to Barcelona on Saturday, which took the upper hand in the Group C playoff race. The two teams had been tied with 2-3 records for the fourth and final playoff spot entering Monday's game.
The first half was everything you could expect from two teams fighting for their lives: several lead changes, action up-and-down the court, big shots, key steals and neither team giving an inch.
Madrid not only climbed back from an early seven-point deficit, but was able to duplicate it, at 34-27, on the leadership of the veteran Aleksandar Djordjevic and his heir apparent, Lopez.
Djordjevic scored 13 points on the half, including a brilliant three-pointer in transition that took the wind out of Hapoel's sails just when both teams were battling to for leads and momentum.
Then Lopez entered to finish off the half and literally stole possessions from the home team. One was good for a breakaway basket and the free throw that came with a foul. Another was a testament to his aggressive defense on the ball, as he stole the ball in open court and waltzed in for another basket.
That on-th-ball defensel, evident again as Hapoel failed to get off a decent shot as time ran out, despite a 15-second possession, turned a modest advantage into a 38-49 lead for the visitors at halftime, which had trailed 25-20 after the first 10 minutes.
The hard work of Lopez had its own subtext. On Sunday, two of his teammates from Spain's world junior championship team, Juan Carlos Navarro and Pau Gasol, shone as Barcelona blasted its eternal rival Madrid in the Spanish League. The question about whether Lopez was adapting as well as his peers to the elite level of pro basketball.
Well, it was Lopez who started the second half, and his growing confidence was evident when he blasted the game wide open with back-to-back three-pointers in the first cthree minutes - one of them off yet another steal. The visitors' lead soared to 57-40.
Lopez was aided by two more unsung teammates, center Eric Meek and shooting guard Lucio Angulo. Meek put up nine points in the half, while Angulo, whose brother Alberto usually domiates the scoring column, added 9, and opened up the second half with a breakaway basket.
Real madrid seemed in full control until the last few minutes of the third quarter, when Hapoel scored five straight points, including a buzzer-beating three pointer, to cut the lead to single digits, at 72-61.
Although the action continued up and down the floor, baskets were harder to come by now. Hapoel looked for Stewart, but Madrid wasn't about to let him get close to the rim. The lead held at nine, 74-65, with 5 minutes to play. Madrid's defense just would not break.
Friday, December 11, 2009