Serbia & Montenegro started playing the kind of basketball their fans expected of them – and it paid dividends in the form of a 93-77 win over Israel.
Igor Rakocevic started alongside Marko Jaric in the backcourt in place of Dejan Bodiroga to quicken the backcourt and it seemed to work right away for all players concerned.
Jaric bounced back from a scoreless performance on Friday night against Spain to lead the way with 18 points
The host nation looked more organised and less static against Israel, even though the visitors weren’t out of the game until a 20-0 run in the fourth quarter, capped by a Darko Milicic jumper, put them away for good.
It prompted a standing ovation from the Novi Sad crowd which lasted until the end of the game.
|Igor Rakocevic |
Jaric was relieved that he and his team-mates were able to show what they were really capable of.
“We were much more focused than in our first game against Spain and when we play like that, we’re definitely a much better team and one that can win this tournament,” he said after the game.
Israel recovered from an early double digit deficit to take their first lead of the game at 34-32 midway through the second quarter, but a scoring spurt by Zeljko Rebraca and Vladimir Radmanovic gave Serbia & Montenegro a nine-point advantage at halftime.
The hosts looked more patient and willing to distribute the ball to their inside instead of rushing shots from the perimeter.
In the second half, Israel fought back to make a game of it, tying the game several times thanks to strong play from backcourt players Meir Tapiro and substitute Afik Nissim.
Serbia & Montenegro looked like they had reverted to their bad ways of the previous night against Spain when they could not find or create open shots and had to force several shots to avoid a shot clock violation.
But the unlikely pairing of Nenad Krstic and Darko Milicic gave them a solid inside presence at both ends of the floor.
Krstic provided some much needed offense late in the third quarter while Milicic blocked shots and was an imposing presence defensively. He was also able to contribute offensively scrapping for rebounds and getting putback baskets.
Things were in the hosts’ favour in the final period, as they held Israel scoreless for close to seven minutes.
After the visitors tied the game at 67 all early in the quarter, Serbia & Montenegro went on a 20-0 run thanks to Krstic and Milicic up front and the now efficient backcourt of Jaric and Rakocevic.
Fittingly, it was the home kid, Milicic who capped the impressive run with a jumper from the left wing that made it 87-67.
Rakocevic finished with 15 points and six assists while Krstic had a double double of 13 points and 10 rebounds. Milicic was efficient in limited minutes, scoring 11 points, grabbing seven rebounds and three blocked shots, as all the players who took to the court for the hosts got on the scoring sheet.
Captain Tal Burstein led the way for Israel with 20 points and Yaniv Green added 11 points and 10 rebounds while Tapiro chipped in with 10.
Many can argue that this game will be the one featuring the overachievers against the underachievers.
For the host nation, this game is an absolute must-win situation. And head coach Zeljko Obradovic wants his men to win to silence the fans who booed them against Spain last night.
"I want the fans who booed us yesterday to come to this game and support our opponents again. I believe we will show them they were wrong to do that to us yesterday," he said.
But Obradovic made no excuses for his side's poor performance in the opening game.
"Before the tournament started, I was asked to talk about the home court advantage. I said then that I would answer that question after the games. Now some people may say that we lost because we were under pressure, having to play in front of our fans against a tough Spanish team. But there are no excuses to be made. I am not making excuses. I take the blame for what happened last night and I know we can play better than what we showed."
Meanwhile Israel could be forgiven for taking it easy having won a game - one more than many predicted they would.
But instead, head coach Zwi Sherf says yesterday's win should encourage his players to do even better.
"We won a game that could decide third place in our group. We are very happy to have the advantage for that battle, but there is more we can do. We are taking each game one at a time and giving the best efforts we can."