By Yarone Arbel
Turning point: It wasn't the best night for Nikos Zisis, who got in early foul trouble, but the winning plays came from his hands. Up by two with less than a minute to play he missed a jumper that could have given Slovenia the upper hand, but quickly recovered with an offensive board, and later on the play kicked out a pass to Antonios Fotsis who scored a three ball to set the margin on five, with 31 seconds on the game clock. Enough for a Bronze Medal.
Hero: Schortsanitis came off the bench early after Ioannis Bouroursis got in early foul trouble, and from the minute he stepped on court he was the dominating force under the boards. He scored 23 points and drew 12 fouls to carry his team to the podium.
Stats: After several good shooting nights Slovenia lost their accuracy tonight. They hit only 30% of their field goals and wrote a tournament low of 56 points.
60 years after winning their first, and last, bronze medal the Greek team will take the podium tonight in the third position after edging Slovenia 57-56 in the bronze medal game on Sunday in Katowice.
This is the second time Greece will go home with a medal in the last four years after winning the gold at EuroBasket 2005.
Slovenia came close to capturing a historical moment and winning their first ever EuroBasket medal, but will have to settle for the fourth and respect will have to do in place of a medal.
|Nick Calathes saw significant minutes for Greece, with a team-high three assists in 22 minutes.|
"For us it's an amazing result," said the Greek guard Nikos Zisis.
"When we came here nobody gave us a chance to win a medal, so I'm very happy to go back home with the bronze."
Zisis got in early foul trouble, and wasn't at his best, but did get a chance to take part in the winning plays.
His offensive rebound, following a big kick out pass to Antonios Fotsis made the difference between a possible Slovenian lead, and a five point margin in favor of Greece with 31 seconds in the game.
Greece led throughout the last three quarters, but Slovenia never allowed them to get too far ahead.
Jaka Lakovic, in a big fourth quarter, brought his team within touching distance, but never more.
He scored a team high of 16 points, 13 of them coming in the last quarter.
Vasilis Spanoulis had his worst shooting night in the tournament with only three points and one made shot in 11 attempts, but kept leading his team even when things didn't work out.
After Spanoulis missed twice from the free throw line, it was Bostjan Nachbar who missed a desperate three-point attempt with the buzzer to spark the Greek celebration.
Both teams carried fatigue from the enormous effort they have put in the last few days, and it showed in the shooting percentage.
After several good shooting nights it was time for Slovenia to slow down as they settled for only 30% from the field.
Erazem Lorbek was struggling as well with 12 points on 28% from the field.
One of the main reasons was Sofoklis Schortsanitis who was everywhere on court today with 23 points, on 78% accuracy, six rebounds, two blocks and 12 drawn fouls.
"I've been working very hard," said the big Greek, "but the most important thing is that this is a great moment for a national team.
"To win a medal against the odds is a fantastic feeling."
Schortsanitis was the only Greek player to reach double-digits.
"I am very proud of my players," said Coach Jonas Kazlauskas.
"In this short time we did a great job with a new team that had only three players with experience at such a level."
|Jaka Lakovic led Slovenia in scoring with 16 points.|
Greece scored the first five points in the game but saw Ioannis Bourousis grab two quick fouls and take a seat on the bench, which hurt them down the road.
Nachbar hit twice in a row from distance, to even things out, but went silent after that only to feel a new power rising in Greece.
Schortsanitis, who took over for Bourousis, scored eight points without a miss in the first period, but Slovenia wasn't far behind with a 16-13 deficit after ten minutes.
Greece used the softness of Slovenia around the rim to score seven in a row and write a ten point lead, but a big drive by Uros Slokar, finished with a big dunk, stopped the run and put things in perspective again.
Zisis and Uros Slokar got in foul trouble with three each, before Erazem Lorbek led a small 5-0 run, to cut the margin to five and finish the break behind 31-24.
Greece continued to score inside and keep Slovenia far from the rim.
Today the three-pointers didn't fall in for Slovenia, until Lakovic fired his first and added a steal, followed by another arc bucket by Slokar to make it just a 38-33 game after 28 minutes.
Spanoulis didn't find his rhythm but Schortsanitis was there first with a big block on Lorbek and then on the offensive glass to connect two and calm things down for Greece.
Three turnovers in a row by Greece gave Slovenia a chance to finally tie or take the lead but missed shots and turnovers put a hold on that thought.
Schortsanitis was a dominant force on both ends and with a power move pushed the margin to five, 51-46 inside the last three minutes of the game, only to see Bourousis take his spot for the last two minutes of the game.
Lakovic scored from the perimeter to lift the thousand Slovenian fans to the dome with 2:03 to play, but that didn't last for long.
After missing a defensive board, Slovenia saw Fotsis score a catch-and-shoot three ball with 31 ticks on the clock, and make it a five point difference again.
It seemed like a done deal, but Lakovic had other plans. He scored a quick two from the line and added a big three to cut the margin to one, 57-56 to leave his team some hope for the last nine seconds, but that was the end of the dream.