Greece emphatically overcame a brave Lithuania team 86-78 in one of the most entertaining games of the tournament so far to take up their place in the final against Serbia.
The Greeks needed a massive performance from star man Konstantinos Koufos to get past the Lithuanians, as he scored nothing less than 37 points while pulling down 20 rebounds and blocking five shots to help his side earn what looked like their toughest win yet.
|Marios Matalon provided some help for Koufos with 16 points and nine assists. |
Greece looked to have it won after running up a massive lead in the second quarter before Lithuania bravely fought back to give themselves the chance of their second final in two years.
Two of their players had double-doubles, Vytenis Lipkevicius scoring 22 points and grabbed 11 boards, while Vaidas Cepukaitis got 11 points and 10 rebounds.
But the night was all about Koufos, who played all 40 minutes of the game scoring 15 of 26 shots from the field.
“We’re a great team” he said after the game, quick to point out that he wasn’t alone in the victory.
“We’re just really lucky to be going to the final because there are some other great teams here”.
The big man even had a double-double of 21 points and 10 rebounds before the sides went to the dressing rooms for halftime, as he dominated in a strong first half showing for the Greeks.
As Lithuania made a contest of it at the start, hitting a couple of early treys to keep touch with an impressive Greek side, Koufos was all over the court, blocking a Janavicius shot with 7:25 left in the first before rebounding his own shot at the other end and scoring at the second try to keep Greece level 8-8.
Shortly after he began his side’s 7-0 run which gave them the first decisive lead of the night at 15-10 with 4:24 remaining, whilst combining well with a superb Nikolaos Pappas who ended the night on 19 points.
Lithuania found their three point range again with 2:40 to go, Simas Buterlevicius then Lipkevicius hitting a shot each from long range to tie the game again at 19 with 30 seconds left.
For the first four minutes of the second the parity remained, as bodies were flying everywhere in an intense battle between two very good sides.
It all went out the window with 5:46 remaining however as Greece went on an astonishing 17-0 run to go 44-31 in front with 2:11 left in the half.
Greece were playing some crowd pleasing basketball, and had everyone on their feet when with 3:12 to go Marios Matalon threw up an incredible alley-oop pass from outside the arc for Koufos to dunk it home.
Though the Lithuanians were not prepared to throw in the towel just yet, and at the start of the third they went on their own run of 8-0 to bring it to within two points at 46-44 with 8:03 left.
Greece threatened to pull away again but gradually, with Lipkevicius, Adas Juskevicius and Donatas Motiejunas all scoring well while Greece struggled to score, Lithuania retook the lead 58-57 with 2:58 till the final phase.
It stayed tight and as the last phase started, despite such early dominance from Greece, the teams were dead level at 64-64.
It stayed locked tight throughout the final quarter, with Greece always a little in front until with just 3:51 remaining Lipkevicius rebounded his own missed shot from beyond the arc and laid it up to put Lithuania 76-75 in front.
Then Motiejunas pulled off a massive block as Charalampos Giannopoulos was running in to dunk it home to keep the score at 78-76.
Only one point was added by Greece as time ticked away with three points between the sides.
Then a decisive Marios Matalon two pointer, his sixteenth points of the night, gave Greece a commanding lead with 1:31 remaining and they comfortably saw out time before celebrating widely at the buzzer with all their fans in the crowd.
So Macvan faces Koufos in what will surely be a great battle for the gold.
But after 40 minutes of play Koufos hopes he still has enough left for the final.
“Serbia is a great team, everybody knows it” he said after the game.
“They have some great big men, but we just hope we can come away with that victory”.