By David Hein
Turning point: Russian small forward Kelly McCarty skied to dunk an offensive rebound just as Latvia had used an 11-2 run to cut the game to 65-63. McCarty drained a three-pointer the next time down as Latvia's will was broken.
Hero: McCarty. The naturalized American finished with a game-high 24 points.
Stats: Latvia's NBA big man Andris Biedrins scored just six points in 22 minutes
Kelly McCarty scored a game-high 24 points including two critical fourth quarter baskets to lead reigning champions Russia to an 81-68 victory over Latvia in their opening game in Group B of EuroBasket 2009.
Sergey Bykov added 22 points and Timofey Mozgov added 10 points in the paint as Russian coach David Blatt got a full team effort defensively in holding Latvian NBA star center Andris Biedrins to just six points and Latvia to just 68 points.
"Our goal was to keep them under 70 points. I was surprised we scored over 80. We haven't scored over 80 the whole summer," said Blatt.
|Kaspars Kambala had 22 points for Latvia in the loss.|
"The power of many is a lot more than the strength of a few. And I think we showed the power of many today."
Latvia did receive 22 points from Kaspars Kambala and Kristaps Janicenkos added 14 points, but it was not enough as Kestutis Kemzura's team struggled to just 34 percent shooting for the game.
"Generally speaking offensively we got lost I would say. We were sometimes unorganized. Maybe it was because it was the first game. Maybe it was because we did some new things," said Latvia coach Kemzura.
"I think we played really bad today. There was chaos out there when we did what we needed to do and could have gotten back into the game. But it didn't work out in the end," said Kambala, who helped foul out Russia's only two main low post players.
The game changed for good with 3:34 left when McCarty dunked home an offensive rebound to snap an 11-2 Latvia run, which had brought the Baltic nation to within 65-63.
McCarty drained a triple the next time down the court to break Latvia's will and Sergey Monya nailed a three-ball with a minute left to ice the game.
"We had to box out. It was crucial. We couldn't score and they hit some threes. And that was it," said Kemzura of the final stretch.
The game definitely had the feeling of taking place in Riga and not in Gdansk with some 3,000 Latvian fans making the trip across the Baltic Sea.
McCarty's big game experience helped Russia open an early six point lead at 12-6 and then back-to-back triples by Bykov pushed the advantage into double digits at 23-13 midway through the quarter.
Blatt's men were playing tough defense and the Latvians settled for three-point attempts in going score-less for nearly three minutes while Anton Ponkrashov's foul shots made it a 12-point gap - 28-16.
Latvia however used a late triple by Janis Blums to trim the deficit to 28-21 after one period.
The second quarter was plagued with sloppy offensive execution and tough defense on both ends. Janicenoks's long ball had Latvia within 30-27. But McCarty answered with a triple of his own and Mozgov had the gap back to 36-28.
Janicenoks however drained another triple and Kambala converted a three-point play before Kristaps Valters' breakaway layup head the margin down to 39-36 for Russia going into intermission.
Latvia did not score in the first three minutes and the Russians opened the second half on a 15-8 run for a 10-point cushion 54-44.
Kemzura's men tried to work the ball into the post and Latvia was within four points late before McCarty's foul shots had Russia ahead 58-52 after three periods.
Bykov's three-point play re-established an 11-point gap 63-52 before Mozgov fouled out with more than seven minutes left. Dmitry Sokolov fouled out just two minutes later, allowing Kambala to take over in the paint as he scored six straight points in the 11-2 run which McCarty spectacularly ended.