By David Hein
Greece shook off a 13-2 start to defeat Russia 66-61 on Thursday and book their first ticket to the EuroBasket semi-finals since 1997.
Theodoros Papaloukas came off the bench to lead all scorers with 23 points for Greece, including five free throws in the final 46 seconds, while Dimosthenis Ntikoudis added 11 for the Greeks.
Russian superstar Andrei Kirilenko notched a double-double of 20 points and 16 rebounds, but his team-mates shot themselves in the foot by turning to three-point shot too often in the second half.
The Russians, who had dominated game with their play inside during the first half, were awful from the arc, making just four of 27 for the game.
In the second half, Sergey Babkov´s men were three of 20 from long range.
Papaloukas, regarded by many as the best sixth men in European basketball, could hardly believe the final outcome.
"This success was down to the team work," Papaloukas said. "Even if I had scored 30 points, and the team lost, it would be Greece as a whole who loses. So it´s all about team work."
The victory means Greece have secured a place at FIBA World Championship 2006 in Japan.
"It´s a great feeling," he said, "although I am slightly nervous because I am scared of flying."
Russia´s adopted American, point guard JR Holden, had 15 points while Victor Khryapa finished with eight. That pair combined to hit just two of 16 of their three-point attempts.
After giving up the first basket of the game, the Russians went on a 13-0 run over nine minutes thanks to their strong defence and shot-blocking.
Russia couldn't take care of the ball in the first half, however, as turnovers, poor shot selection and missed free throws allowed the Greeks to get back into the game. The Greeks closed to within 28-26 on Nikolaos Chatzivrettas' three-pointer with 2:11 remaining.
With the score 29-26, the referee nailed Greek coach Panagiotis Yannakis with a technical following a questionable non-foul call on a block by Kirilenko. On the play before, the Greeks thought they had a clean block on Holden's drive to the basket.
Russia closed the half on a 5-0 run - all on Holden five free thows - to lead 33-26.
The Russians missed seven of 17 free throws and committed nine turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
Russia's struggles continued in the third, especially as the fouls began to mount. Centre Aleksey Savrasenko fouled out in the third while Sergey Monya and Nikita Morgunov both finished the period with four.
Greece kept chipping away at the Russians and finally took the lead at 1:53 remaining in the third quarter on Papaloukas' three-pointer from the left side. That shot started a 9-0 run, pushing the lead to 48-40 on Nikolaos Zisis' layup over Kirilenko.
With just over three minutes gone in the fourth quarter, Holden hit two straight free throws - their first points in over six minutes.
Russia continued to struggle in the fourth quarter but Victor Khryapa's three-pointer and Holden's layup gave them a chance, trimming the lead to one, 50-49.
Papaloukas three times broke down the Russian defence and scored layups - the last giving the Greeks a 58-53 advantage.
Vasileios Spanoulis made just one of two for a 61-55 lead.
Vitaly Fridzon closed the gap to 61-58 with a three-pointer before Papaloukas hit five free throws down the stretch.
Greece will now try to emulate the success of the team that captured gold in 1987.
"There are two games to go," Papaloukas said. "You never know, this is what is great about sport."