Serbia & Montenegro finally got what they have worked so hard for over the past two days – a comfortable 82-67 win over Latvia to stay alive in the competition and a standing ovation from the Novi Sad crowd to go along with it.
The hosts came into this game knowing a loss would mean elimination from the competition.
However, the win secures second spot in Group D, with Spain taking first place and a direct route to the quarter-finals.
Serbia & Montenegro will now face France in Novi Sad in an elimination game on Tuesday night.
|Igor Rakocevic produced another good performance for his side|
“We had to overcome a good team of Latvia who play the same way all the time, but in the end it didn’t work for them and they couldn’t hit their shots from outside.
And Obradovic is going straight to work, studying France to prepare for the elimination game.
“I watched the first half of their game against Slovenia this evening (which Slovenia won 68-58) and I will watch the rest of it and their other games tonight.
“We know they are a very good team, very athletic and I have a lot of respect for them. They are similar to Latvia in the way they go about rebounding. We will need to keep them off the boards as much as we can.
“We need to look at how well we were able to play over the last two games and play to that high level if not even higher to beat France.”
Milan Gurovic believes Serbia & Montenegro will not have the chance to let up for just one minute in the elimination game.
“For the first time in the tournament, I think we were able to play well for a full 40 minutes. That’s the kind of effort it will take to overcome France on Tuesday.
Tonight the hosts were led by their backcourt duo of Rakocevic – who had 19 points – and Marco Jaric who added 12 points and seven assists.
Serbia & Montenegro were firing on all cylinders early on and held a 16 point lead at half time, 47 to 31.
They were not as explosive offensively in the second half, but did well enough at the defensive end to prevent Latvia from getting back in the game.
Latvia were a shadow of the side that forced overtime against Spain the previous night and again relied too heavily on three-point shooting, but this time with no good coming from it as they finished the night on an abysmal 6 for 32 from three-point range.
Like in the game against Israel, Jaric and Rakocevic started together and were in sync instantly.
Serbia & Montenegro’s NBA contingent was ready to answer head coach Zeljko Obradovic’s call as Zeljko Rebraca, Vladimir Radmanovic and Jaric each scored some early points to put the pressure on Latvia.
The visitors played catch up for most of the first half, but their offense was stalling and as in the game against Spain, foul trouble was a problem early on.
Serbia & Montenegro were playing perfect basketball, not forcing shots and sharing the ball so well, that all eight players who took to the court in the first quarter, got on the score sheet.
The second half had a slower pace to it, especially when captain Dejan Bodiroga was on the floor for Serbia & Montenegro.
But once again, they distributed the ball and took the shots available to them.
Latvia meanwhile, were working hard to create open looks but the hosts’ defense was covering their every move, forcing them into rushed shots, most of them from behind the arc.
“We didn’t have a great start to the game and we couldn’t get any easy points tonight,” said Latvian head coach Karlis Muiznieks.
“We tried several things to change the game but nothing worked. And it didn’t help our cause that we made silly mistakes and fouled too much which lead to easy points for them.
Latvia’s captain Roberts Stelmahers was disappointed to see his side dismissed so early in the tournament.
“I’m sad to see that we were only here for three games. But that’s the way it goes. So now we go home and try to recover,” he said.
And Stelmahers also gave his idea of a good final.
“I would like to see Serbia & Montenegro reach the finals and play Spain. I think it would make for a very interesting game.”
Latvia face their toughest challenge of EuroBasket preliminary round play on Sunday as they need nothing less than to defeat Serbia & Montenegro on their own court to challenge for a place in an elimination game.
Heroic displays by Sandis Valters and Kristaps Janicenoks weren’t enough to prevent Latvia from losing to group leaders Spain in a heartbreaking 114-109 overtime game.
Spain got off to a great start and Latvia were in foul trouble early on, sending the Spaniards to the free-throw line 20 times in the first quarter alone.
But behind an outside shooting barrage led by Valters and Janicenoks, the Latvians clawed their way out of a 14-point deficit to make a game of it.
|Sandis Valters will need to hit plenty of shots if Latvia are to beat Serbia & Montenegro|
However missed free-throws proved to be the deciding factor in this game and Latvia failed to earn those points in the fourth quarter and extra-time session.
Despite the final score, head coach Karlis Muiznieks was proud of his team’s efforts.
“I’m proud of the way we played. We were down early on and had some foul trouble, but we stayed patient and came back to make it an interesting game. But in the end, we made critical mistakes and it seemed luck was on Spain’s side,” he said.
Kristaps Valters conceded that the early foul trouble may have done Latvia’s chances in.
“Our defensive fouls really affected us, especially in the first quarter. Other than that, we played well. We shot the ball well, we played aggressive defense and managed to slow Spain down a bit. But in the end we just committed too many fouls.”
But Valters believes Latvia will take both the negatives and the positives from that game and come out strong against Serbia & Montenegro.
“Last night’s game gives us confidence for today’s. It will be our most important of the tournament yet because it may well be our last but we’ll be ready to give everything we have left.”
Despite the loss, Latvia will be happy to see that their style of play was in full effect as they converted 18 of their 45 attempts from three point range.
Against Israel, Serbia & Montenegro looked a different side than the one which lost by 19 points against Spain on Friday night – and in some way they were.
Igor Rakocevic replaced Dejan Bodiroga in the starting line-up and it made the defending champions a much quicker and energetic team.
Led by its contingent of NBA players, Serbia & Montenegro put together a 20-0 run in the fourth quarter to put Israel out of contention for good.
Krstic took care of the offense in the paint while Jaric did some damage from the perimeter and Milicic proved a threat defensively, blocking several shots before taking over from Krstic at the other end of the floor.
Jaric made amends for a sub-par performance against Spain by leading a balanced offense with 19 points. Rakocevic added 15 points and six assists and Krstic had a double double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Milicic, the 20-year-old who rarely plays for the Detroit Pistons, showed glimpses of his potential and finished the night with 11 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
After the game, Serbia & Montenegro head coach Zeljko Obradovic was happy with his team’s efforts but still saw things that needed correcting.
“We played well but we are still making some mistakes. We were more patient on offense and circulated the ball and tried not to force anything,” Obradovic said.
He also thanked the fans for sticking with Serbia & Montenegro through the good and the bad on the night, culminating in a standing ovation in the closing minutes of the game.
“The fans stood behind us when we were struggling to make anything good happen. And that’s when I feel we need them the most. When things aren’t going right. So my thanks go out to them for sticking by us all the way tonight.”
“We will need to play at least as well as we did against Israel to take care of Latvia today.”