Iron Man Galis

08 November 2006
by Yarone Arbel

If you're looking for something, and you can't find it no matter how much you turned your place upside down, you have three options.

1. Give up – you lost it. Just forget about it.
2. Wait for winter time – the pockets of your coats will most likely contain stuff you forgot in there from last winter.
3. Move to a new place – packing is probably the best thing to do if your goal is to find something you lost.

I'd like to consider myself an optimistic type of guy, so #1 isn't a favorite option. Lucky me, the first two arrived at the same time – winter is slowly kicking in down here in Israel (although some days are still sunny enough to hit the beach) and I have just moved to a new place.

This deadly combination helped me find loads of things I've been looking for at different times. Shamefully one of the things I've found, I didn't even remember I had.

There in the corner laid a CD case. Like many other of its kind, this one was on the sure path to the garbage, but a quick look in revealed the following text: "EuroBasket stats 1973 – 1991".

Let's try to break this one to pieces. "EuroBasket" means this CD is about European basketball – a true big love of mine. "Stats" is something that has always fascinated me, especially when it comes to basketball. "1973 – 1991" means we're talking history here. European Basketball-Stats-History – each of the three is pure happiness for me.

Greeces Nik Galis at the 1987 European Championship in Greece
Galis scored 44 points on two different occassions at the 1987 EuroBasket.

The content of the CD displays eight folders (EuroBasket 1975 and 1979 were missing). The one that attracted me most was EuroBasket 1987 – the first time the current EuroBasket champ, Greece, won the title.

The upcoming EuroBasket in Spain will be the 20-year anniversary that probably has changed the face of European Basketball forever. If Greece hadn't won that title, nobody can tell if basketball would have become such a big sport in the land of Plato or surrounding nations.

Greece won that title after shocking the USSR in the finals 103-101 in overtime. If you're a real fan of European basketball, you know this by heart. But this file had some very interesting things to tell about the Greek team of 1987.

Prior to 87, Greece wasn't a big force in European Basketball to say the least. In 1949, in their first EurbBasket, Greece finished third, but only seven teams participated in that competition (Lebanon, Syria and Egypt – the champs, were part of the seven). They had played in 10 EuroBaskets and their highest finish was only eighth (two different times). Imagine Latvia, Bosnia-Herzegovina or Israel winning EuroBasket 2007 and you might start to realize how big of a surprise it was back then that Greece prevailed.

The Greeks started their magical journey on June 3rd 1987 with an easy 109-77 victory over Romania (the last appearance of Romania in a EuroBasket). Nothing very exciting, other than the fact Nikos Galis scored 44 points.

The following day came the first sign that something different was in the air. Next to come was the big Yugoslavia team that finished the last two prior EuroBaskets in 7th place, but still displayed the Petrovic brothers who led Cibona Euroleague titles in 1985 and 1986. That team also included Cvjeticanin and very young versions of Divac, Kukoc, Djordjevic, Radja, Paspalj and Vrankovic.

Greece limited the great Petro to 18 points on 31% shooting from the field to win 84-78. On the other side of court stood the same short guy they called Galis. He scored more than half of his team’s total – and tied his tournament-high with 44 points.

Next came a 106-89 loss to Spain. The following day the great USSR, which won three of the previous four EuroBaskets, narrowly beat Greece 69-66.

On the last day of the first round, Greece faced France, led by the great Demory-Dacoury-Hufnagel-Dubuisson-Ostrowski combination. The winner would win the ticket to the quarter-finals. Galis had 34 points on 72% shooting from the field and Greece won 82-69.

Greece played Italy, winners of gold and bronze in the last two EuroBaskets. This time Galis scored 39 on "only" 61% shooting as Greece advanced to the semis with a shocking 90-78 win.

In the semi-finals, Yugoslavia was waiting, dying to get revenge from loss in the first round. They looked almost perfect in a 128-81 victory over Poland in the quarters.

Once again the great Drazen was humanized by the Greek defenders and finished with only 22 points on 47% shooting from the field. On the other side of court, Galis scored 30 points on 58% shooting and once again Greece won 81-77.

Then came the finals. So Greece won the title and Galis was amazing, but that's the headline, the big known-to-all story. The beauty is in the small details - the stats.

Galis finished the tournament as the top scorer with 37 points per game, never finished a game with less than 30 points, but this isn't the most amazing thing. Two things you can find in the stats make it even more special.

If you remember his game, despite being a short guard who collected tons of points in every game, back in 1987 he wasn't a great three point shooter, not even from mid-range. The vast majority of his points came inside the paint due to his astonishing penetration.

For example, he scored 44 points against Romania without a single three point shot. In his 44 against Yugoslavia, he was 0-of-1 from behind the arc. In eight games there was only one game in which he hit more than a single three-pointer.

To top it all, the Greek hero played eight games and finished the tournament with an amazing average of 40:10 minutes per game.

In opening night, in the easy win over Romania, Galis got 3:43 minutes of rest, but from then until the end of the competition, he didn't sit for one second. A round 40:00 minutes in each of the games. The reason he averaged more than 40 mpg is the finals went to overtime. Of course Galis played the entire 45 minutes there.

This makes his performance even more amazing. Keep in mind all teams knew that this is the main guy to stop on the Greek team, and the entire defense focused on him.

It's one amazing thing to score 37 points per game at the highest level, but it's much more spectacular to do all that on mostly penetration as a short guard, with the entire defense focusing on you and without resting for even one split second since the second day of the competition.

After three inconvenient days of packing and unpacking, Nikos Galis actually made it all worth while.



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