By Simon Wilkinson
Russia used a 15-4 run in a six-minute span late on to turn a close game into a route, as they beat Croatia 83-70.
David Blatt’s men played from behind for the better part of the first two and a half quarters but, once they edged ahead 55-54 lead on a lay up by reserve Nikolai Padius with 1:13 left in the third period, they never relinquished their lead, outscoring their opponents 28-16 the rest of the way.
The result means that Russia (4-1) can still finish top in Group E if hosts Spain lose to Israel in the last game of the day.
Meanwhile, Croatia (2-3) must now wait to find out the result of that game and of the Greece-Portugal clash to find out whether they are through to the quarter-finals.
|Roko-Leni Ukic's turnovers|
The game was close for the first three quarters with neither team leading by more than eight points.
But Russia used a 15-4 spurt spanning the end of the third quarter and the first five minutes of the final period to turn their 58-56 advantage into a comfortable 73-60 lead.
They forced their opponents into a lot of mistakes – offensive fouls, turnovers and poor shot selection – early in the final frame and that ultimately proved to be Croatia’s downfall.
“In the first half, we allowed them to play their game and we were in trouble. But after the break we started to execute our offense and defense better and we forced them into making mistakes. We got some fast-breaks and easy points on their turnovers,” said Andrei Kirilenko who led Russia with 20 points and eight rebounds.
Croatia were without starting guard Marko Popovic who sat out because of a torn hamstring. Watching from the sidelines, he witnessed his team’s inability to maintain their level of play for a full game and admitted that has cost them dearly.
"All tournament, we haven’t played well for a full 40 minutes. That's what happened today and that's why we won in the first half but lost the second,” he said.
“Now we hope Spain will beat Israel and then we'll play in the quarter-finals, but I hope then we'll know to play good for 40 minutes. I had an injury in my hamstring, and we didn't want to risk it. If it was a big game, I would have continued to play."
Popovic’s usual backcourt partner Zoran Planinic looked like he was ready to pick up the slack in his team-mate’s absence early on, scoring four of his team’s first eight points as they jumped to an 8-4 lead.
However, he then picked up three quick fouls in the first six minutes and sat out the rest of the first half.
Planinic’s absence didn’t seem to trouble his team too much though as Davor Kus stepped up his play and gave Croatia their biggest lead of the game, 39-32, on a three-pointer with 2:46 left in the first half.
Russia though scored nine of the last 12 points before the break to trail by just one, 42-41.
The teams exchanged the lead for the most part of the third quarter before Russia went on its run.