Turning Point: Damjan Stojanovski had a terrific tournament and hopefully won't be haunted for the rest of his career for missing a wide open lay-up by some distance with seven seconds remaining, as F.Y.R. of Macedonia tried to tie the game.
Game Heroes: While Kirilenko was his usual all-action self, Russia's big men did a great job. Timofey Mozgov finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds on 4-of-4 floor shooting, while Andrey Vorontsevich had 10 points and 7 rebounds.
Stats Don't Lie: Russia's depth did it again with 29 absolutely valuable bench points
|Andrei Kirilenko led all Russia scorers with 18 points, including three clutch 3-pointers |
Russia inflicted heartbreak on F.Y.R. of Macedonia to deny them a historic first medal in another highly absorbing and unforgettable match-up.
Having won their previous clash in Round 2 with a last gasp miracle shot by Sergey Monya, this time it wasn't Russia but F.Y.R. of Macedonia themselves who were the architects of their own downfall.
They missed a golden opportunity in the dying seconds to tie the game and were punished by Aleksey Shved, who held his nerve from the free throw line to secure a 72-68 success and help Russia secure bronze.
With both teams renowned for their defence, it wasn't surprising that scores were a rarity in the early stages with Russia making life tough by blocking three shots to show their intent.
Offensively, Russia also started slowly with only three points in almost five minutes before eventually exploding with a 10-0 run.
It was initiated by captain Sergey Monya and the influential Andrei Kirilenko who made successive three-pointers, while Timofey Mozgov did the job in the paint with back-to-back dunks, putting his team 13-6 ahead.
Early in the second period F.Y.R. of Macedonia briefly recovered but, their perimeter game was failing them and their prospects of wrestling back the initiative lessened by captain Pero Antic being stone cold, as they fell 22-15 behind.
|Vlado Ilievski of F.Y.R. of Macedonia, who had a great second half, collapses after the final buzzer|
Six quick-fire points by Vojdan Stojanovski and Vlado Ilievski changed things, but once again Russia eased away at 30-23. It wasn't all positive with perhaps more turnovers than Coach Blatt will have wanted although at least in Monya they had someone with a real hot-hand as he buried his third score from long-range.
With the electric Bo McCalebb F.Y.R. of Macedonia always had hope, although they suffered a real blow when Vitaliy Fridzon sunk a three-ball with a handful of seconds remaining to put his team 36-30 ahead at half-time.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia soon trailed by double digits, at 45-35, and with Predrag Samrdziski on four fouls and Russia doing a great job denying Vlado Ilievski, they needed something to change.
It did. They held Russia to just five points in five minutes while the inspirational and, at times, almost unplayable McCalebb sparked a run to ensure it was a new game at 50-50.
F.Y.R. of Macedonia joy increased further when an Ilieveski three-ball handed them the lead at the start of the fourth and with Kirilenko and Mozgov each on four fouls, it looked good.
Only Kirilenko wasn't sat on the bench, he was on court and making two three-pointers in a row to help Russia regain the lead at 58-57.
Ilievski though was beginning to exert some real influence and he made his third triple to tie the scores, 60-60 with three minutes remaining. There was still no daylight between the teams at 68-68 with less than a minute left to play and it boiled down to execution and composure.
Sergey Bykov showed he had it in his locker with a tough finish as the shot clock ran down, but Damjan Stojanovski crumpled under pressure when he found himself wide open under the basket.
As his regulation lay-up missed the basket completely, he put his heads in his hands knowing his team's chances of a medal had evaporated.