By Yarone Arbel
You can't get much more exciting then Friday night's games.
It looked like only bad news for Greece as they trailed Slovenia by double-digits with time winding down but anyone who counted them out doesn't know much about Greek basketball.
In the end it was bad news for Slovenia and another match-up with Spain in the semi-finals.
The Good News
Papaloukas – comeback hero: With 1:37 to play Greece was still down by nine. Then Theo woke up. The 2006 FIBA Europe Player of the Year showed he should be in the running for the 2007 award as well. Out of Greece's last 10 points he scored seven including, of course the winning basket. He made all the right decisions and even the single basket he didn't make, the three pointers by Nikos Zisis, started with a big steal by Papaloukas. The scary thing about Greece? Yesterday it was Papaloukas, tomorrow it could be Diamantidis, who has the same amazing winning mentality and ability.
Jasikevicius – passing master: Since day one here Sarunas Jasikevicius has been leading the assists race. Last night showed, certainly not for the first time, Saras' passes come at the right moment. He entered the last quarter with "only" three assists, and his team struggling to score for the first time in the tournament. One minute inside the last quarter and with the game tied he dished his first assist to Darius Songaila. What Followed was a stretch of three minutes where three og his assists resulted eight points by Linas Kleiza and Simas Jasaitis. The last came in the most crucial possession for Lithuania. Up by two with a minute on the clock and all the pressure on their shoulders, Saras set a pick-and-roll with Songaila, dished his fifth assist in the last quarter and fixed Songaila an open mid-range shot. Those were the last, and most important, points for Lithuania.
|Jasikevicius got the ball to the right people at the right time. |
Kleiza – fourth quarter step up: One of the reasons it's so difficult to beat Lithuania is because they have so many weapons, and almost any player on the roster can kill you. Linas Kleiza had a great start here with three games in double-digits. In the last two he went took a step back, but last night he was the one who stepped up in the last quarter for Lithuania. He finished the game with 19 points and nine rebounds, and improved his perfect free throws numbers throughout the championship with seven out of seven. In the deciding quarter he scored seven points and pulled down three rebounds.
The Bad News
No clutch: Both quarter-finals were decided by a single basket as Lithuania won by two and Greece by one. What's interesting is that both losing teams – Slovenia and Croatia had the last possesion with a chance to win it and both could have gone inside but chose to take a long range shot by their top gunner and both missed. Croatia went to Marko Popovic who was three out of eight until that point. Slovenia went to Jaka Lakovic who was three out of nine at that point.
Slovenia – the 2:40 from hell: It seemed obvious before the game that Greece's game plan would be easy to figure out. Since Jaka Lakovic was the only guard on Slovenia with experience in big games like they were about to play, Greece would put big pressure on Jaka and hope the "kids"– Domen Lorbek and Goran Dragic-didn't hurt them. In the last years Europe experienced what ball pressure means when Greece played, so that seemed like an easy task. For 37.5 minutes that wasn't the case, but after Jaka Lakovic nailed the three-pointer which made it 61-49 and 2:40 on the clock and it seemed that Europe will have a new champ, the ball pressure came back to life. Lakovic and Dragic hardly crossed half court and made bad passes. Then it was a 24 seconds violation, and finally Matjaz Smodis made another bad pass. Next came the three-pointer of Nikos Zisis and it was a one point game. The comeback was completed.
Croatia – execution: Croatia coach Jasmin Repesa has done a magnificent job throughtout the entire tournament and especially against Lithuania in the quarter-finals. After the game it seemed like he has experienced his saddest moment in basketball. He prepared his guys greatly for the big match with the gold contenders from Lithuania, but it all comes down to the execution on the court. His players made only eight out of 19 free throws, with the miss of Zoran Planinic with one second on the clock being the most crucial one. Croatia isn't as good a rebounding team as Lithuania but in that game they matched them, losing the battle only 42-36, but more importantly grabbed 19 offensive boards. The problem was the execution. Around two minutes to go and down by six Croatia had three balls to make it a closer game after grabbing two offensive rebounds in a row. What they ended up with was only one point from the line. They still managed to come closer and be in a great position to force overtime or even win, but that possession showed one aspect that were missing last night.