Dirk Nowitzki's three-pointer with 27 seconds left gave Germany a 51-50 come-from-behind victory against Russia on Sunday and a showdown with Turkey for the right to reach the quarter-finals of the 2005 EuroBasket.
Nowitzki scored Germany's last 11 points and ended the game with 24 points and 19 rebounds while Andrei Kirilenko finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and eight steals for the Russians, who finished atop Group A and advanced to the quarter-finals despite Victor Khryapa missing a last second shot for the win.
"After the loss against Italy, it was important for us to win a close game," said Nowitzki, who also had three steals and two blocked shots.
|It was a routine night for Dirk Nowitzki against Russia, 24 points and 19 rebounds |
The crowd at the Vrsac Millenium Center was clearly in favour of the Russians. And both teams started the game cold offensively amid high defensive pressure, resulting in a 10-8 first-quarter score with Kirilenko collecting six steals in the period
Russia's staunch defence held Germany scoreless over a seven-minute stretch in the first half, allowing them to build a 20-8 lead. Germany found their game a bit to make it 26-16 at the break.
"They just closed the door on us," German guard Misan Nikabatse said of the first half.
But Demond Greene added: "We knew that we were still in shape, and that we didn't hit anything in the first half."
Holden's three-pointer midway through the third made it 33-18. German coach Dirk Bauermann called a timeout, waking up his team which then went on a 16-2 run to make it 35-34.
"As long as we keep playing defense we knew that we would eventually find a rhythm," Bauermann said.
Nowitzki in that streak hit two three pointers and one free throw ending a 22-minute scoring draught for the Dallas Mavericks star.
Russia again pulled away, as Khryapa's layup made it 43-34 with 6:39 left. But Demond Greene and Nowitzki's back-to-back three-pointers and Nowitzki's two free throws evened it at 45-45 with 3:49 left.
Khryapa and Holden hit long-range jumpers to make it 50-46. But Germany came back yet again with the help two ball-handling turnovers in the final 77 seconds by Kirilenko. Nowitzki hit two free throws with just more than a minute and then hit the winner with 27 seconds left.
Bauermann knew the game would be won or loss with the ball in Dirk's hands. "I was telling him, you have to take every shot. If it doesn't come from you it won't come from anybody."
Russia will play either Greece or Israel in the semi-finals while Germany would face Slovenia if they beat Turkey on Tuesday in Vrsac.
When Russia and Germany hook up Sunday night for the deciding match in Group A, the showdown will be about teamwork and not one on NBA superstadom or EuroBasket history.
Germany knocked off Russia 71-70 in the final to capture the 1993 EuroBasket title in Munich. Six years later in France, Russia got revenge with a 74-70 win to clinch the final Olympic ticket.
On Sunday, the Millenium Center in Vrsac will see a direct showdown of two of the NBA's best and most versatile players with Russia's Utah Jazz ace Andrei Kirilenko expected to have the difficult task of limiting Germany's Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
"Dirk's going to get his 27. We can't stop that. But we need to make him shoot something like 6-25," Russian point guard J.R. Holden said.
And Kirilenko will be all over the floor, as he's the team leader in scoring (19.0), rebounding (a tournament-high 12.0) and blocked shots (3.0) and averages 1.5 steals and 1.5 assists as well.
After struggling from the field in their opener against Ukraine, Russia (2-0) shot the lights out in rolling past Italy showing they are definitely worthy of status as legimate title contenders.
"We're not going to let down at all against Germany. It's important for us to find and keep our game," said Kirilenko, whose team will qualify for the quarter-finals with a victory and possibly with a close loss as well - should Italy beat Ukraine.
Two key players to watch in this showdown will be German center Patrick Femerling and Russia forward Victor Khryapa.
Russia's defence is very versatile and the 2-3-4-5 position players can all switch and the defence doesn't suffer much. But as Kirilenko admits: "If there's somebody really big then we may have a small inside problem."
And Femerling represents that problem as Russian centers Nikita Morgunov and Aleksey Savrasenko will be called upon to keep Femerling out of the blocks. With Kirilenko expected to be all over Nowitzki, Khryapa may be put on Femerling if Russia want to use a versatile and quick lineup.
Khryapa is expected to be a mismatch regardless, as he's quicker than Femerling - in a big lineup - and much taller and more powerful than German small forwards Denis Wucherer, Sven Schultze or Demond Greene.
"We're not going to run with them. But we are the type of team that can run if the chances are there," German coach Dirk Bauermann said. "They like to run and gun and shoot. But that can backfire if they don't hit those early jump shots."
And Germany (1-1) showed a lot of character coming back from the devastating opening loss to Italy to make it look easy against Ukraine.
There is a numbers game to this contest as well - as always at the end of the first round of a championship.
If Russia win, they head to the quarters as undefeated Group A winners. If Germany win by 15 points they take the group - regardless of what happens between Italy and Ukraine - and Russia would be second - meaning they play the cross-elimination match in Vrsac.
The third placed team travels to Podgorica to take on either Turkey or Croatia.