Behind the all-around play of Dirk Nowitzki, ample help from the supporting cast and a large run to start the fourth quarter, Germany silenced the large Slovenian crowd with a 76-62 victory over Slovenia in the quarter-finals of EuroBasket 2005.
Germany qualify for FIBA World Championship 2006 in Japan and will take on the winner of Spain's quarter-final with Croatia.
"The Slovenians underestimated us," said Nowitzki. "They said we were the team they wanted and that was wrong, you shouldn't do that in the quarter-finals."
While Nowitzki was his usual self with 22 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, guards Pascal Roller, Mithat Demirel and Demond Greene provided crucial offence as Germany upset the Slovenians.
The trio combined for seven of 11 from three-point range.
Roller, who made a pair of crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter, and Demirel each had 15 points while Greene 10.
Becirovic and his coach, Ales Pipan, complained that he had been fouled but the referee took exception and called a technical foul on Pipan.
Nowitzki made two free throws to start an 8-0 run that put Germany in command.
Germany then pressed home their advantage at the start of the fourth quarter.
With a 52-47 lead going into the fourth, Germany went on a 15-2 after a three-point shooting tear.
Roller opened with back-to-back threes, Robert Garret connected from the right wing and a Nowitzki bomb from the top of the key gave Germany a 66-49 lead with 6:05 remaining.
Germany cruised home from there and a jubilant German squad celebrated an upset victory. Supporters of both teams stood and applauded as the final buzzer sounded in appreciation of a hard-fought battle.
Slovenia were plagued by terrible shooting, particularly in the final quarter. The team with the top record in Group C shot 32% in the game – 28% in the fourth quarter when they also committed four turnovers.
For the third consecutive quarter-final, the team that finished in the top of their group failed to advance.
Greece upset Russia and France defeated Lithuania in the other quarter-final clashes.
Slovenia started slow, missing 11 of their first 13 attempts from the floor as Germany jumped out to a 13-4 lead. Nowitzki was accountable for just one field goal during the spurt.
Germany´s defence was intense and both Nowitzki and Patrick Femerling had emphatic blocks.
The run continued as Demirel hit his second three-pointer of the quarter to give the Germans a 19-6 lead. Nowitzki went to the bench for a breather with just over a minute remaining and Slovenia promptly scored the next five points.
Demirel continued his strong first quarter by hitting a driving lay-up with three seconds remaining and Germany finished the first quarter up 21-12 lead. Slovenia finished four-of-19 from the field in the first quarter.
Germany's impressive first quarter offence quickly went in a different direction in the second. The Germans didn't score for the first 5:24 after the restart, missing on their first 11 field goal attempts.
Nowitzki finally stopped the drought with a mid-range jumper. On Slovenia's ensuing possession, Primoz Brezec scored his eighth point of the second quarter with a lay-up to give Slovenia a 24-23 lead with 3:34 to go in the half.
Germany's offence got back on track as they hit their final three field goals, which included a Nowitzki four-point play. Jaka Lakovic´s three-pointer as time expired in the half tied the game at 34.
The teams went back and forth in the third until Germany opened a nine-point lead following three-pointers by Demond Greene and Pascal Roller with four minutes to go in the quarter. Slovenia cut the lead to five at 52-47 as the third quarter came to a close.
Slovenia suffered their first loss of EuroBasket 2005 and will try to beat the loser of Spain-Croatia in order to secure a top six finish which is needed to qualify for the FIBA World Championship.
David against Goliath may be over-doing it a bit. But Slovenia are still clear favourites going into their quarter-final showdown with Germany Friday at the 2005 EuroBasket.
The Slovenians - playing in the final eight for the first time in their seventh straight trip to the continental championships - on paper look like they will have little problem with Germany. But Germany have one player no one can underestimate - Dirk Nowitzki.
"It's not a secret that Germany build their team around Dirk Nowitzki," Slovenian floor general Jaka Lakovic said. "It's impossible to stop him. He'll score his 25 points or more."
|Germany are hoping Marco Pesic will rediscover his shooting touch against Slovenia|
"It will be really tough, especially because of Dirk Nowitzki," Slovenia captian Rasho Nesterovic said. "He's really an outstanding player. You cannot stop him."
Goran Jurak is the man who will most likely be given the unwelcome challenge of guarding Dirk.
"If I'm in a position to defend Dirk it will be great challenge for me," he said. "I know I can't stop him by myself and that I'll need help."
But Slovenia will be hesitant to focus solely on Nowitzki.
"We have to make Dirk take a lot of tough shots. But we're also aware that Germany is not only Nowitzki," Lakovic added. "So we have to be careful the other guys don't score much."
Germany know they have a big task ahead of them. But they are confident.
"Individually they're strong, but they don't scare us," German coach Dirk Bauermann said. "They're the stronger team on paper, and yes they've matured since the last tournament (where they finished 10th).
"But the Slovenians are not impenetrable. I don't know about our chances in a seven-game series. But over 40 minutes, if we're fit and we believe in ourselves and play with a lot of passion and have Dirk Nowitzki - then anything is possible in 40 minutes."
One thing Germany are aware of is the danger of falling behind double digits to Slovenia like they did against Italy, Russia and Turkey.
"At the beginning (of games) we pass too much and don't shoot enough," Nowitzki said. "Maybe we're too anxious. But anybody who's open has to make their shots."
"Once we're down like that we play with a sense of urgency which we don't when we're not," Bauermann said. "But that's still very dangerous against Slovenia."
The coach knows he can rely on Nowitzki to get his points. But he doesn't know where the other help will come from.
"Dirk will bring the same performance as he did against Turkey (33 points and 10 rebounds). I assume that. But others will have to step up for us to win," Bauermann said.
He said he expects Patrick Femerling to help with 8 to 12 points from the center position. And he's expecting big things from Marco Pesic.
"(Pesic) understands what this is all about. He was able to expose some holes in the defense with drives in the Turkey game. And being a Serb, he'll have a great will to win," Bauermann said. "I really expect him to step it up. He doesn't define himself as a shooter. He can call upon various ways to beat you."
The coach said Pesic is bound to break out of his shooting slump: 1-for-11 from behind the three-point stripe.
"He just needs to make one and he'll be on track," Bauermann said of Pesic.
Even if the team is struggling offensively, Nowitzi said they have to keep fighting on the defense.
"We've been able to to stay in games even though not much has been working on offense. But we've pulled ourselves together, and we've been able to fight back," Nowitzki said.
David's chances weren't too high against Goliath. Who knows?