By David Hein
A new EuroBasket champion will be crowned in Madrid after reigning world title-holders and hosts Spain dethroned Greece 82-77 in the semi-finals of the 2007 EuroBasket thanks to sterling performances by the Spanish trio of Juan Carlos Navarro, Pau Gasol and Jose Manuel Calderon.
The trio combined for 64 points and Calderon's three-pointer and break-away lay-up started and finished a crucial 9-1 run which turned a 67-65 Greece lead into a 74-68 advantage for the Iberians, who advanced to their sixth European final while still waiting for their first continental crown.
"We expected this type of game, a really hard one against a really great rival like the defending European champions Greece," said Spain forward Jorge Garbajosa, who collected six points, five rebounds and four assists.
|Spanoulis stepped up big for Greece (24 pts) with Papaloukas on the bench in fould trouble.|
"Having won last night (against Slovenia), Greece had a lot of confidence coming into this game. But we showed a lot of character. Those who thought this game would be easy for Spain were mistaken."
In Sunday's final at the Palacio de Deportes, Spain will face either Lithuania - who knocked off Spain in the 2003 finale - or Russia, who face off in the second semi-final.
Greece will face the loser of that match with the victor on Sunday clinching the bronze medal as well as an automatic berth in the 2008 Olympics.
“We played our best game up to now in this tournament,” siad Greek forward Michail Kakiouzis. “We had a chance to win the game, but in the end, Spain made their free throws.”
Pepu Hernandez's troops used the long ball to knock off Greece for the third time within a year, routing them 70-47 in the 2006 World Championship finale and winning 76-58 in the qualifying round.
Navarro drained five three-pointers on his way to 23 points while Calderon hit four treys in scoring 18 points and Gasol was his usual all-around dominant self with 23 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots.
The Spanish defense, however, were never able to get under control Greek guard Vasileios Spanoulis, who scored 24 points while Panagiotis Vasilopoulos hit for 10 points.
After proving the hero in Greece's miracle comeback against Slovenia, Theo Papaloukas
struggled again with just three points, two rebounds and two assists.
|Pau Gasol was as dominant as ever for Spain with 26 points, six rebounds and three blocks.|
He also turned over the ball with 11 seconds with a chance to cut into a four-point Spain lead.
The contest started as many hoped - like a battle of heavyweight fighters trading punches.
The Spaniards struggled a bit with their ball-handling early and Greece pulled ahead 10-6 on Dimosthenis Ntikoudis's three-pointer, but the Iberian bombers were warmed up and Calderon drained three three-pointers and Carlos Jimenez added another as Spain led 24-18 after one period.
Nikolaos Zisis converted a three-point play to start off the second quarter but Hernandez's marksmen were at it again.
This time Navarro hit twice and Carlos Cabezas's trey gave the hosts their first double-digit lead at 37-26 halfway through the second.
The Greeks tightened the defensive screws and held Spain to just two Rudy Fernandez foul shots in the next nine possessions and tied the game on Konstantinos Tsartsaris's inside basket with 18 seconds left in the first half - a 13-2 run.
Gasol however scored in the paint with two seconds left to give Spain a 41-39 advantage at the break.
The Greeks knew they were in the ball game to stay and grabbed the lead 49-47 on Spanoulis's steal and break-away lay-up.
The top-notch battle continued throughout the third period, highlighted by Navarro and Vasilopoulos each hitting two three-pointers with Greece finishing the third quarter ahead 60-59.
Tempers flared at the end of the third period on a final driving lay-up by Navarro, which the refs ruled was not a foul.
The entire Spanish team rushed to the other end of the court but the altercation was held in check.
Both coaches were given a technical foul as a warning to the players.
Navarro struck again from outside and then the referees called an unsportsmanlike foul on Tsartsaris for an apparent hit on Garbajosa, who made both foul shots for a 64-60 Spain lead.
Spanoulis converted a three-point play and Lazaros Papadopoulos's basket made it 67-65 with five minutes left but Calderon re-appeared for Spain, hitting another long bomb to spark a 9-1 run which he finished on a break-away lay-up for a 74-68 advantage with 1:47 to go.
Zisis's three-pointer with 19 seconds brought Greece to within 78-76, but Garbajosa and Navarro sandwiched two foul shots around a Papaloukas turnover for an 82-76 scoreline.
Spanoulis made a final free throw, but it wasn't enough.