By Dave Hein
Theo Papaloukas's driving lay-up with 6.7 seconds remaining completed a furious 14-1 flurry to the finish as Greece overcame a 12-point deficit in the final 2:30 to knock off Slovenia 63-62 and live on for another chance to defend their EuroBasket title.
Papaloukas added yet another chapter to his superstar and legendary status with 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, setting up another showdown with world champions and hosts Spain in Saturday's semi-finals.
"Slovenia played more intelligent than we did and better than us for 39 minutes. But we played better in the last minute. We had no chioce," said Papaloukas, who had two points and zero assists at half-time.
|Matjaz Smodis and Slovenia had a big lead late but could not hold on.|
"We pressed, made lay-ups and we got the job done. We showed character to come back. We've been in these situations before."
"I'll never forget this game, this moment. This team is unbelievable. It's not the first time it's happened to us. But it shows that we never stop believing," said Nikolaos Zisis, who hit two foul shots and a three-pointer in the thrilling 14-1 spurt.
Lazaros Papadopoulos added 10 points for the reigning champs, who forced Slovenia into four turnovers and two missed three-pointers in the final 2:30.
Jaka Lakovic had 14 points, five rebounds and three assists but his potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer fell well short of its target.
"It's heart-breaking. We played a great game until the final 2:30 and Greece are simply more experienced than we are," said Slovenia big man Erazem Lorbek.
Radoslav Nesterovic collected 16 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots, and Matjaz Smodis added 10 points but it was not enough for the Slovenians, who lost their second straight game and face Germany in the 5th-8th place classificiation on Saturday.
Both teams came out ready to play and gave the fans a real back-and-forth battle with four lead changes and six ties.
A late Lakovic three-pointer gave Slovenia a 17-12 advantage, which Greece trimmed to 17-14 to end the first period.
The see-saw affair continued in the second half and Greece went ahead 28-25 on Vasileios Spanoulis's jumper with three minutes left.
But Ales Pipan's men responded with a 9-0 run, featuring a three-pointer by Erazem Lorbek and a driving lay-up at the buzzer by Goran Dragic to send the teams into the locker-room with Slovenia ahead 34-28 - after 12 lead changes and eight ties.
Slovenia came out working hard on defense and held Greece without a basket for the first 3:34 in building a 41-28 lead.
A three-pointer by Dimitrios Diamantidis trimmed the margin to 49-40, but the Slovenians were ahead 51-40 going into the fourth.
Uros Slokar's inside basket increased the Slovenia lead to 16 points - 58-42 - with less than eight minutes to play. And Lakovic's three-pointer made it 61-49 with 2:41 left.
But Greece finally woke up. Zisis and Panagiotis Vasilopoulos both made two foul shots followed by one free throw by Lakovic for a 62-53 scoreline with 1:37 to go.
After a Slovenia turnover, Papaloukas scored a driving lay-up but failed to convert the three-point play. Another Slovenia turnover ended in Papaloukas draining a three-pointer. And after yet another turnover, Zisis buried his only three-point attempt of the game to trim the deficit to 62-61.
Domen Lorbek stepped up for his team but missed a three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining to give Greece a final chance to finish the run and Papaloukas proved once again why he's widely considered the best player in Europe, cutting into the heart of the Slovenian defense for the winner.