By Simon Wilkinson
Vasileios Spanoulis sank a buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Croatia 81-78, earning Greece their first win of the qualifying round to hugely improve their chances of advancing to the quarter-finals of EuroBasket 2007.
The defending champions entered this game having lost their last two against Russia and hosts Spain and in desperate need of a win to stand a chance of making it through to the last eight.
Croatia’s Marko Popovic sank a pair of free-throws to tie the game at 78-78 with seven seconds left in the game but Spanoulis took the inbound pass, ran up court and launched a deep three-point attempt from the right wing. He knew he had won the game once the ball left his hands.
|Croatia thought they had the game in the bag after taking a big third quarter lead.|
"It was in, I was sure that that was it - it was a good shot,” he said of his game-winner afterwards. “It was a very nice game, this is a big win for us.
“We shot well in the second half and we moved the ball well, which is what we needed in order to get back in the game. We did the right things to clinch the win in the end."
As for Popovich, he was only too aware that his team – who led by as many as 13 points at one point in the third quarter - had let a great opportunity slip away.
“We should have won this game. It was in our hands, but we didn't take it all the way,” he admitted.
“We didn't lose it in that last shot by Spanoulis. We lost it when we were up by 13 points and allowed Greece to come back. We played well, and we must keep this against Russia as well and hope to be in the quarter-finals.”
Croatia’s 50-37 lead with just under six minutes left in the third period turned into a four-point deficit, 61-57, early in the final frame as Greece used a 24-7 spurt to regain a lead they lost early in the second quarter.
“You're always upset when you lose a game like this. But I'm also very satisfied that we were able to play with Greece. In the end of the third quarter, we lost our concentration and allowed them back into the game. It's important to stay cool, quiet and concentrated,” said Croatia coach Jasmin Repeta.
Panagiotis Giannakis’s men started the game very well by pounding the ball down low and taking advantage of Croatia’s man-to-man defense.
Dimosthenis Ntikoudis scored his team’s first seven points for a 7-2 advantage.
Lazaros Papadopoulos then took over, scoring the next 10 points to help his team jump to a 17-10 lead with 3:36 left in the quarter.
Croatia though fought back and trailed only by one, 20-19 after Stanko Barac’s shot with 22 seconds left in the first period.
Things turned around completely in the second quarter as Repesa got his players to go zone and the strategy worked perfectly as Greece only got two baskets in the paint during the entire period – after taking only one shot outside the key in the game’s first 10 minutes.
Dimitrios Diamantidis made a pair of free-throws to put Greece up by five, 29-24, with under five minutes left in the first half, but Croatia responded with a 16-4 run to take a 40-33 lead at the break on Damir Markota’s buzzer-beating lay up.
Zoran Planinic made back-to-back three-pointers to give Croatia its first double-digit lead of the game, 48-37, before Davor Kus fed Marko Tomas for an easy lay up.
But Papaloudos and Theodoros Papaloukas got their team within seven, 54-47 and, when Damir Markota turned the ball over and committed an unsportsmanlike foul on Dimitrios
Diamantidis, it proved to be a crucial turning point in the game.
|Vasilis Spanoulis would eventually sink the Croatian's at the buzzer.|
Diamantidis made both free-throws as Greece scored the last 11 points of the period to take a 58-54 lead.
Popovic hit a three-pointer to make it a one-point game, 58-57, at the start the final quarter and the teams proceeded to trade the lead for a while.
Papaloukas connected from long range with 4:47 left to put Greece up 69-66 but their opponents didn’t relent as the game went down to the wire.
The defending champions may have thought they had it won when Diamantidis hit a long bomb of his own to take a five-point lead, 76-71, with 1:24 left.
However, Roko-Leni Ukic made a lay up and Popovic hit from dowtown with 13 seconds left in the game to trail by one, 77-76.
Diamantidis then made only one of two free-throws, leaving the door open for Croatia.
Greece decided to foul and sent Popovic to the line where he hit both to tie the game at 78-78.
Diamantidis finished with 23 points and Papadopoulos added 22 while Spanoulis chipped in with 14 - none more important than the last three.
Kasun led five players in double-figures for Croatia with 15 points