Greece, Russia Fight For Top Spot

05.09.2007

By Yarone Arbel

At first sight, it seems these teams should enter this game calm after they both secured their places in the next round with two wins in two days. However, that’s not their approach to this game.

In fact both teams will see this as a must-win situation because it will earn them the top spot in the group and a nice advantage in the next round.

Greece came closer to losing their first two games – against Israel and Serbia - than they would have liked to. At the moment, they look like the title-holders are struggling to find their EuroBasket 2007 pace, while Russia are riding their great momentum, displaying some fine team defense while being well-coached by David Blatt.

Jon Robert Holden (Russia)
Holden has an interesting
battle with Papaloukas
With a win, Russia will blossom, and word might start to spread that they are a team that can bring home a medal. Greece would like to put their two average displays over the past couple of days behind them and put on a good performance – which would result in a win of course - before the next round.

Last Time Out: Greece worked very hard and wasted a lot of energy to overcome Serbia 68-67 in overtime yesterday, while Russia cruised to a comfortable 90-56 win over Israel in the group’s earlier game.

Head-to-Head: Two years ago in Belgrade, these two teams met in the quarter-finals. Greece won a close game 66-61 behind 23 points from Theodoros Papaloukas, while Andrei Kirilenko had a huge double-double of 20 points and 16 rebounds for Russia.

Key Match-up: Papaloukas and J.R. Holden share the backcourt at club level for CSKA Moscow during the season. Sometimes they take it in turn to take the point guard duties. Here they go head-to-head but each has a different role in his team due to their different abilities. While Papaloukas sometimes come off the bench and hasn’t played over 30 minutes so far, Holden is a starter who rarely sits out. He is an out of control shooter, while Papaloukas is always on top of things. So different but each player is a key man for his team. Keep an eye on which CSKA guard will excel and, as a consequence maybe prevail, in this match-up.

Statistics: Both Greece and Russia did a very taking care of the ball over the first two days. Greece lead the tournament so far with the fewest turnovers per game (8.5) while Serbia is fourth with only 11 turnovers on average over its first two encounters. It will be interesting to see how Russia react to the Greek pressure defense that so far has resulted in the champions also leading the competition in the steals category with 10 per game.

X-Factor: Greece’s team defense as a whole is the x-factor of this game. Kirilenko is shinning in every game and it seems there’s no one in particular that can guard him among Pannagiotis Yannakis’ squad. Some are too short, others are too slow. AK47 does so many things on the court that eliminating his points would probably not be enough, but if the defending champions - as a team - manage to frustrate him for a change, Russia will struggle.

What It Means: The winners will finish top of the group but a win weighs much more than that. Both teams will carry the results to the next round. Arriving there with a 2-0 mark will obviously make life much easier than a 1-1 record would. But it’s even bigger than that: the winners will enter the next stage also with a tie-breaker advantage, making it almost impossible for the losing side to pass them being both behind in the wins column and in the tie-breaker.


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