By Yarone Arbel
Croatia got off to a fast start in their Group A debut with a 74-67 win over Greece in overtime.
The players of coach Ivan Sunara were supposed to win the game after 40 minutes, but saw Greece write a classic last seconds come back to force the extra period.
Zeljko Sakic led Croatia in a big day with 22 points, eight boards and a lot of fighting spirit. Mario Filipovic
followed with 15.
|Nick Calathes led Greece with 14 points, five rebounds and five assists.|
Nicholas Calathes led Greece with 14 and Michail Tsairelis added 10.
"We made a mistake of inexperience but I told my players before the overtime not to get nervous and keep playing our game and it worked for the best," shared coach Sunara after the win.
It wasn't a big shock to see Greece open with efficient pressure on defense. After nine minutes Croatia hardly put points on the board, as Greece held a 13-4 lead.
Franjo Bubalo and Antonios Michaloglu exchange long range hits to make it 16-7 after ten minutes, but Greece continued to put on the pressure.
The players of coach Giorgos Sigalas showed great team play, as ten players were on the board already after 15 minutes, none of them with more than five points, enough to hold a 28-17 lead.
Sakic carried Croatia to score nine points in a row just before half time, but Calathes hit a corner three-pointer before the buzzer to give Greece a 31-26 half-time lead.
The Croats stayed close and even took a small lead as Sakic continued to dominate, but Greece struck back with a 12-2 run to hold a 46-39 lead after three quarters.
Miro Bilan and Sakic kept Croatia in the game with inside-outside contribution but Greece, despite not having a great day from the field, still stayed on top, 51-50 entering the last three minutes of the game.
Turnovers and missed shots on both sides came to an end when Bubalo nailed an off the dribble three-pointer a little over a minute on the clock to set the score on 56-53 for his team.
Sakic added another three-ball with 40 seconds on the clock to make it a six point game, but only those who don't know the Greek spirit thought the game is over.
Greece missed several Hail Mary attempts, and it seemed like the curtain was down on this game, but against the Greeks it's never over until the buzzer.
It came down to a three point game and Croatia's half time in bound with five seconds to play, but it wasn't over yet.
Great ball pressure forced a bad pass by Croatia and Greece went for the last chance to make the most of the turnover.
Charalampos Giannopoulos drove on the right side and with the buzzer released an off-balance shot that went in and forced overtime in a 60-60 tie.
Greece entered the extra time with big momentum, but it was Croatia who struck first.
Sakic and Filipovic didn't allow Greece to raise their head too high, and right away put Croatia back on top, this time not leaving any room for mistakes.
MVP of the game, Zeljko Sakic, shared: "We didn't allow them to make us nervous. We just continue to play hard and I thank god it was enough to get this win, because it's very important to start such tournament with a win."