By Yarone Arbel
The Good News
Croatia can take some comfort in defeat - The saying goes "You win some and you lose some". Croatia beat Spain with a tough three-pointer from the right wing in the last seconds of their group stage finale, but last night they lost to Greece...on a tough three pointer from…the right wing...at the buzzer. Despite the torture it must be to lose a game like that, Croatia can take comfort in the fact that they played great against the two teams most people consider favourites to win the title - the hosts and world champions Spain and the defending EuroBasket title-holders Greece. If no big upsets take place on the last day of the qualifying round, Croatia should make it to the quarter-finals. Considering the list of absentees on their squad, that's a great achievement in itself.
Keep an eye on Gomes - One very promising and unknown prospect stood out of Portugal's win over Israel. Joao Gomes - a skinny forward with great athletic ability who can jump high and has a long wingspan despite being only 1.98m tall - led the way with 23 points, 11 rebounds and three steals. But the stats don't tell the whole story about this 22-year-old. You had to actually witness his dominance and energy, especially in the second half, when he skied high for two alley-hoops, to realise what great potential he has. Considering he's still not a great shooter (he has only made one of his 12 three-point attempts in the tournament so far), this kid is worth following closely until EuroBasket 2009.
|Gomes has only begun to scratch|
the surface of his potential
Spain's big stars but even bigger team - When Spain are on fire, it seems nobody can stop them. That's because they have such great individual players but still play like a real team. Against Russia, coach Pepu Hernandez had nine of his players play between 11 and 30 minutes. Five scored in double-digits, six grabbed three or more rebounds while four racked up at least two assists and no one took more than 11 shot attempts. Jose Calderon is running the show and last night committed no turnovers against a tough Russian defense. Some teams try to eliminate Pau Gasol first of all. Maybe taking Calderon out would be a better first choice.
The Bad News
Russia's get hooked on three-pointers - In the first five minutes of their game against Spain, Russia started very well, making four of five shot attempts from three-point territory. Obviously such a performance can't be sustained for an entire 40 minutes, but David Blatt's players were toxic from their early accuracy. By the end of the night, they had taken 30 shots from beyond the arc, by far more than their average and the way the coach likes his team to play. Prior to that game, Russia hadn't taken more than 23 attempts from long-range, but Spain and coach Hernandez made them change their style. Once Russia's hot streak ended, it was only a matter of time until the hosts took over. Just to illustrate the severity of Russia's three-point "bug", Sergei Monya went zero for six from three-point territory. His six attempts stood out for a player who had until then not taken more than three shots from long range per contest in his team's previous games.
Israel play better as underdogs - After scoring two memorable wins over Serbia and Croatia as clear underdogs, the Israeli force went down just when it faced Portugal - as the favourites. It's a totally different thing to approach a game as favourites or underdogs. There's a different kind of energy involved. For some teams, when they are down by 15 as favourites, the players start to fight amongst themselves. Conversely, when they're down by 15 as underdogs, they unite to fight back against the enemy. For some reason that remains unclear, people still underestimate Portugal, at least Israel may have. In their last five encounters, Israel have lost to Portugal four times and their only win was in a game that didn't matter. Lior Eliyahu was the only shinning star in the defeat for Zvi Shref's side. He finished with 29 points and nine rebounds in what was only his second good game here (the first was against Russia). Oddly enough, the two times when Eliyahu performs well in this tournament, Israel suffered two heavy defeats.
Greece's defense falls asleep - Something is still wrong with Greece. It's not something that is justified by the buzzer-beating win over Croatia because the defending champions have barely won "easy games" before. But it's more a general case of the way things are going for them at the moment. Prior to the game against Croatia, it seemed their main problem was that their offense was in trouble. The good old tough Greek defense - which can keep any team below 70 points - though still seemed to be there. Even if Spain crossed that line, Croatia weren't expected to, unless they got really hot, right? Well, actually, wrong. Croatia already had 40 points at half time and finished with 78 in the game. Their shooters weren't even having a good day, hitting only seven of their 23 long bombs. One of the reasons, why Greece conceded that many points is because they forced their opponents into only eight turnovers this time. That's much less than the usual. Even Spain and Russia, who both beat Greece, lost the ball more than that.