FIBA Worlds--Greece 95, China 64
Vanilla Thunder's take on the Greece-China quarterfinal tilt:
-China jumped out to an early lead as they hit a couple threes, didn't turn the ball over, and seemed to feed off some nice fan support.
-Then Greece brought in V. Spanoulis (about to join Rockets) and Euro-stud Theo Papaloukas and things changed in a big way. These two guards changed everything with their ball-hawking pressure on defense and penetration on offense. Spanoulis looks like he should be able to help the Rockets as a backup at least - he seems to fit the Van Gundy mentality with the way he attacks on D. Papaloukas is just a playmaker on both ends - he was everywhere.
-This was my first look at Greece in the tourney. I went into this game thinking that the U.S. would just be too talented for Greece in a potential semifinal matchup, but after seeing the Greeks, I think they're really going to be a tough out, b/c they are so scrappy and smart as a team. Also, they have a bunch of great penetrators on O - and we know how much trouble that has caused Team USA.
-The story re: China's failures was the same as always - atrocious floor games by their guards. Beyond the extreme turnover differential, they simply could not get the ball into Yao. 5 shots! Big fella had to be unbelievably frustrated.
-To that point, China's 17-year-old point guard Chen Jianghua got some run - and he's an interesting prospect. He's way too green to be effective - Greece's guards really preyed upon him with success - but he really does have good speed and dribble moves. There's a little bit of And1 flair in the young fella. Obviously, he needs to polish things quite a bit, but he could be a revolutionary player in China - first of all, if he can simply become an effective point guard, but also if he can become a guy who plays with style. (Search on 'Chen Jianghua' on NYTimes.com if you have the TimesSelect product - there was an NYT Mag feature on Chinese basketball including him back in 2003.)
-Despite playing ferocious, suffocating defense, Greece once again strangely gave up a high FG% - China shot 52.1%. I'm guessing they're leaving more open shots than I realize with their gambling D. This could really be the story of the game if they meet the U.S. - can Paul, Hinrich & co. keep the TOs low and can the guys continue to hit the open shots when they arise.
I know I'm getting ahead myself b/c France certainly has a shot vs. Greece, but I'm expecting the four favorites to prevail in the quarters, and I absolutely can't wait for the semis.