By Yarone Arbel
Coming to Granada Russia's ambition was to qualify to the next round with a good result, but step by step their hunger got bigger.
Tonight they finally feel full, at least for the next 48 hours, after beating the champs from Greece 61-53.
Russia won Group A with a perfect record, and will carry two wins to the next round in Madrid, while Greece lost their first game in EuroBasket since 2003, and will have to work harder to qualify to the quarter-finals.
|Papaloukas and Greece struggled to get their offense going.|
"We shot 58% from on free throws and only 38% from the field and that's not enough," confessed coach Panagiotis Yannakis of Greece, telling the story of the game from the Greek side.
Russia took control on the game from the very start, took the first lead and after one quarter already looked down at Greece, 15-8.
Andrei Kirilenko, who grabbed 17 boards tonight, collected seven of them in that stretch.
"Our objective was to up tempo the game. We did that in the first game, but for the last two and a half quarters Greece set the tempo. We had to make a great defensive effort to win the game," analyzed the winning coach, David Blatt, after the game.
Russia's margin already climbed to double-digits, but Greece showed they don't plan on giving up the game.
A couple of three-pointers by Mikhalis Kakiouzis and Nikos Zisis, helped coach Yannakis walk to the locker room down by only three points, 25-22 behind a big first half by Victor Khryapa who collected 11 points and five rebounds by then.
Zisis and then Theodoros Papaloukas put Greece on top for the first time in the game early in the second half, but then Russia showed their back court power when J.R. Holden warmed his hand and Zakhar Pashutin nailed two big downtown aces.
With ten minutes to play Russia held a 44-38 lead, and Greece started to look nervous.
It took almost three minutes until the first points of the last quarter arrived, but the momentum stayed on the Russian side.
When Vasillis Spanoulis slashed to the rim with 6:13 to play he was about to cut the margin to three, but Kirilenko was there at the right time and place to show who owns the court tonight.
With a big block he sent Spanoulis to the floor and pushed Russia forward.
Holden connected on five points in a row, and Kirilenko made it a nine point game, 54-45, with less than five minutes to play.
"When we opened a 10 point lead in such game, it's like 25 in another game," said Blatt, explaining the last minutes.
That margin was enough to topple the Greek giant, who never came close to threaten the Russian lead until the final buzzer.