Game Hero: Croatia's aerial supremacy is largely down to Damir Markota, who had nine rebounds in less than 10 minutes of play in the first half and finished with a game-high 11 rebounds to go with his four points. But Damjan Rudez came off the bench midway through the first quarter, when Croatia, at that stage, had scored all eight of their points from offensive rebounds, and hit two quick triples to provide the only thing this excellent defensive side were missing, offensive fluidity.
Stats Don't Lie: Croatia went to the locker rooms at the interval leading 39-20 on the back of 32 rebounds (12 on the offensive end) to Finland's 16. Finland only shot 17% from the floor during the catastrophic for them first half. Croatia scored 44 points in the paint and that made their life easier, while Finland only got 10 points close to the rim.
|Damjan Rudez gave Croatian the offensive kick-start they needed to run away toa convincing victory|
Croatia closed down all lanes to their basket during long stretches, were dominant on the glass for 40 minutes and subsequently picked up a comfortable 88-63 win over Finland in the opening game of Group F on Thursday.
Many basketball coaches sustain that if a team maintains laser-sharp focus on defence and controls the rebounds, it will gradually find rhythm and energy on the offensive end of the court.
Croatia provided fans at Stozice Arena in Ljubljana with a live demonstration of this axiomatic approach in their first game in the Second Round of EuroBasket 2013.
"I like the way we fight, you can come in a game and miss a hundred shots, but if you see that everyone is fighting, diving on the floor, playing with their heart, you cannot ask for anything else," their point guard Dontaye Draper said afterwards.
Croatia didn't have to miss a hundred shots on Thursday before they started flowing offensively.
Rudez's six quick-fire points helped them finish the first quarter ahead, 17-11, and 7:29 from the end of the second period, Draper dispossessed Petteri Koponen mid-court, passed to the galloping Roko Leni Ukic and the veteran guard made it 21-11 with a lay-up on the fast-break.
Koivisto and Teemu Rannikko hit their first triples for a Finnish side that had stayed at 11 points for almost nine minutes, but even that was not enough to bring the gap back to single digits.
"That is our game, to play hard defence and from that defence come the rebounds and everything else," said Luka Zoric afterwards.
"We were prepared to keep tied, play aggressively on Rannikko and Koponen and that was the key in this game."
Croatia led 39-20 at the half-time interval and a Finnish comeback attempt never materialised in the second half.
The gap reached its maximum value, 75-42, on a Luksa Andric lay-up 4:52 from the final buzzer.
"During these two days off, we had about five or six meetings and the coach really prepared us well," said Draper.
"He knew what we were going to do and he said this was a really important game and he wanted us to play with energy.
"I think he was the main reason for the win."