By Yarone Arbel
Greece’s improved shooting - Greece took a lot of criticism since the championship started for their offensive game or, in fact, lack of it. When you win, most people don't care how many points you score. When you lose, 58 points seems to be too little. Against Croatia, in their second game of the qualifying round, the defending champions scored 81 points but Jasmin Repesa’s side isn’t known around Europe for tough defense. Portugal, on the other hand, are a hard nose team, that hits, fights, bites and kicks before allowing you to score. Which is why scoring 85 points in that game is a very good sign for the next stage if you're a Greek fan. Moreover, it's the shooting percentages that should make coach Panagiotis Yannakis happy. His players made over 63% of their attempts from two-point range and 55 % from long-range. Such numbers are tough to register against most teams, especially Portugal. Russia, Croatia and Spain have all beaten the minnows by a double-digit margin. None of those three teams though were as accurate from the field as Greece.
Padius makes his presence felt - Nikolai Padius is one of the most exciting players to watch in this competition. An athletic and very strong guard who can be spotted easily because his hair is often in the wind when he storms down the court for another dunk. He hasn’t played much though - only nine minutes over the first two games, and he didn’t get on the court since. But, in the game against Croatia, he was one of the main reasons for Russia’s second half rally that led to victory. A big dunk followed by a great lay-up late in the third allowed them to stay on top. Early in the fourth he added an assist, two steals and two points in Russia's decisive run. Padius played 18 minutes, made all three shots from two-point range and finished with six points, five assists and two steals. Russia it seems have found another player to put in their rotation before the final round. Don't take that lightly. The deeper a team goes into the tournament, the more you need players to come off the bench and make a good change.
|Dimos Ntikoudis and the Greek team|
rediscovered their shooting touch
Pau makes it look easy - Spain beat Israel by 26 points and won Group E. Pau Gasol had 26 points. None of that is big news, but the ease with which the older Gasol did it was quite impressive. In the first eight minutes of the game, he was the only Spanish player to scored from the field, collecting eight of his team’s first 10 points. When he went to the bench, Israel took off. When he came back on, he scored six points in a row to tie the game for the first time since the first minute. Then at the start of the second half, he scored six of Spain’s first nine points and dished out the assist for the other three points. When he was back on Spain’s bench, they already led by seven and were safe ahead. He never came back into the game. He played only 18 minutes but was dominating every second – scoring a game-high 26 points on 10 of 13 shooting, making all six of his free-throws, grabbing seven boards, dishing out an assist and coming up with one steal. He also had no turnovers. What more can you ask from a player?
Russia’s pressure too much for Croatia - Croatia scored 78 against the intimidating Greek defense on the second day of their qualifying round, and already had 42 on the scoreboard against Russia by half time of their game. But when David Blatt’s side stepped up and got aggressive in the second half, Croatia was lost. By the end of the third quarter, it was still only a four-point lead for Russia, 60-56. Then came a five-minute span in which Russia demonstrated their ball pressure skills. Roko-Leni Ukic made a bad pass, 30 seconds later he missed a shot and, after Damir Markota hit a lay up, Croatia had a shot-clock violation. Marko Tomas was the next to turn the ball over, and following another Markota basket, it was Zoran Planinic’s turn to commit a turnover. Mario Kasun and Davor Kus then missed shots and if you lost count here's a short summary of Croatia's first five minutes of the last quarters – four points, three missed shots and four turnovers. By then, Russia had a 13-point lead. Game over.
Rodriguez fails to impress - For the first time in the tournament, Spain coach Pepu Hernandez decided to start young Sergio Rodriguez, and leave Jose Calderon on the bench. Rodriguez didn't step on court in the big win over Russia while Calderon was the game’s MVP. Yet Hernandez had his own reasons for the change. Whatever they were, he paid for them. In the first six minutes, Rodriguez missed all three of his shots, turned the ball over twice and dished only one assist. Israel had an eight-point lead by then, and carried the momentum until half time. Calderon? He finished the game with 15 points in 18 minutes on 60% from the field and handed out two assists.