Turning Point: Szubarga disposed Roko Ukic mid-court and scored with a lay-up to bring Poland within one point, 68-67, with 1:52 left in the game. Croatia fed Ante Tomic in the paint, his shot missed everything under immense pressure but Damir Markota picked up the scraps to make it 70-67. Poland misfired on consecutive three-point attempts to draw level and Markota again collected the defensive rebound and threw the ball to the galloping Bojan Bogdanovic, who made it 72-67 with just 12 seconds on the clock.
Game Hero: Krunoslav Simon scored eight points on two-for-two shooting from three-point range during the opening seven minutes, when Croatia established a 24-4 lead; Bogdanovic had 10 points in the third-quarter spurt that pushed back the first Polish comeback attempt, and was Croatia's go-to guy, but Markota, with his three crucial rebounds in the last 90 seconds, is the Croatian Deus Ex Machina.
Stats Don't Lie: What ended up looking like a perfectly balanced stat-sheet begun as one-way traffic. Within just the first 4:25 in the clash, Croatia went six-for-nine from the floor (including three-of-four on three-pointers), provoked four Polish turnovers and scored nine points in transition, to leave Poland playing catch-up the rest of the way.
|Damir Markota was the hero for Croatia, coming up big at the death with three rebounds in the final 90 seconds|
Croatia let slip a 20-point lead over Poland on Saturday but managed to hold on for a 74-70 victory that keeps them in contention for a top-three finish in Group C and puts the Polish team on the verge of elimination.
There were long spells in the encounter at Celje Arena, such as the opening seven minutes, as well as the first stretch of the third quarter, that Croatia looked the best they have looked so far at EuroBasket 2013.
With three minutes remaining to the first buzzer, the Croats, almost on demonic form, had jumped ahead 24-4.
Poland, missing in action during that spell, showed signs of life when Michal Ignerski, who finished with a double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds in defeat, came off the bench and helped them start the long process of clawing their way back into the game.
"I don't know what changed later, we opened the game really well, it made a huge difference," Croatian center Ante Tomic said afterwards.
"But somehow, I don't like that.
"I honestly don't like scoring 15 points in the first five minutes, cause we have 35 minutes to go and you still need to play tough for an entire game."
Poland reduced to 41-32 at the half-time buzzer but Bodganovic, with a triple on the fast break, had capped off a 7-0 run and restored Croatia's 18-point lead, 56-38, with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter.
The Poles still had the admirable energy and will power to attempt another comeback following that blow, with Szubarga their hidden ace.
But there was no time for a third attempt at grabbing the lead after Markota's crucial play so late, and no one can overlook the fact that Croatia led from start to finish.
"At the end we managed to do that and get the win, we are really happy," Tomic said.
"This was a big win today, we are now one win away from the Second Round and I just hope that we will continue to play like this, like a team."