Croatia pulled away from a pesky Portugal with a decisive run that started before half-time and ultimately prevailed 90-68.
With both sides having lost their Group B openers – Portugal to Spain and Croatia to Latvia – victory was a must to have a realistic chance of advancing to Madrid for the next stage of the competition.
|Roko-Leni Ukic had 14 points in Croatia's win.|
Late in the second quarter, they led 35-34 after Paulo Cunha made a pair of free throws and added a lay-up.
Croatia finished the half on an 8-1 run for a 42-36 lead, though.
Marko Popovic scored five of his team-high 14 points in that run.
“He can change the game at the right time,” Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa said.
“He also did it with two or three shots in the third quarter.”
Indeed, when leading 42-39 at the start of the second half, Croatia reeled off nine straight points for a 51-39 advantage.
Popovic started that spurt with a lay-up, and he capped it with a three-pointer.
By the end of the third quarter, Croatia were in total command at 75-50 and they cruised over the final 10 minutes.
Repesa admitted the defeat against Latvia had weighed heavily on his team.
“It was psychologically a different game because of yesterday,” he said.
Marko Banic, the Croatian forward, had eight points in the game.
He said the team play was much improved.
“Yesterday, we didn’t play like a team,” Banic said.
“Today, we played much better. We just need to keep playing better defense.”
Unlike Monday, when Croatia endured an almighty struggle against Latvia shooting the ball from long range, they were eight of 19 (42%) by the end of the third quarter against Portugal.
They finished 10 of 24 (42%) for the game.
Joao Gomes was four of six (67%) from the floor when he scored those 13 points for Portugal in the first eight minutes of the game, but did not play for the remainder of the first half.
He ended up with 17 points.
“Once again, we didn’t start badly,” said Cunha.
“We never could get on top of them.”