Sunday, September 13, 2009

Eurobasket 2009: Qualifying Round Sunday

GROUP E: Russia 68, Greece 65

Russia unexpectedly handed the Greeks their first loss of Euro 2009 by bottling up the most potent offense of this tourney. Greece shot only 34% from the floor, 5/21 from long range. Greece was averaging 86 ppg on 58% shooting overall before this contest.

Knew the defense would be solid with Russian coach David Blatt in control, just couldn't foresee it being as stout as the 2007 version without Kirilenko & Khryapa. Russia did a superb job protecting the painted area in '07, and have continued the same this year, holding opponents to 41% on 2-pt. FGs (#1 in tourney). They also currently lead the tourney in overall def. FG pct. at 37% and def. 3pt. pct. at 29%. Although one has to take into account that Russia has faced fairly anemic offenses before this game.

Once again, Coach Blatt mixed up the defensive looks wonderfully. Went stretches with man, then would switch to traditonal zone, and then even mixed in a hybrid-type of zone. Same kinda stuff that worked magic in '07.

Russia's help across the backline was on time all game. A lot of the blocks came after another defender(s) initially held up the progress of the Greek offensive player. Timo Mozgov was always hovering somewhere in the lane to deter the usually punishing drives of V. Spanoulis. Did a tremendous job of limiting the deep penetration of Spanoulis and keeping him off the FT line, something he thrives on. Spanoulis finished with 12 pts on 4/11.

The best example came on the last play, in which V. Spanoulis was trying to bust into the lane but Russia shut him off. Spanoulis was forced to give up the ball to G. Printezis for the final shot that didn't connect.

Like Greece, Russia's offense wasn't particularly proficient. The Russians shot 38% from the floor, not to mention they failed to score in the first 7 mins. of the 3rd quarter. But they were able to save some face with a 10 for 21 performance behind the arc.

With the game 48-48 early in the 4th, Sergey Monya (16 pts) led Russia on 9-0 run by himself with three 3pters in a two-minute stretch. Two makes in a row where he squirted out from the paint off baseline screens. Then he hit another 3pt. to beat the shot clock off a broken play a few minutes later. Monya continues to be one of the best help defenders in the tourney, and he helped out with 3 blocks.

Kelly McCarty helped out Monya in the 2nd half with some timely baskets of his own. He hit two jumpers that helped Russia regain the lead late in the 3rd after Greece made mini-runs. McCarty also teamed with Monya to provide stellar helpside defense on the wings. McCarty led the Russians with 17 pts & 9 rebs.

PG Sergey Bykov was effective getting to the rim, too bad when he got there he was atrocious. Bykov must have missed 6-7 lay-ins on his way to a 1/12 shooting night.

Timo Mozgov was an interior presence once again, maybe more of a factor on the defensive end today. Mozgov cut off driving lanes well and changed or blocked shots (3) when Greece got near the rim. Mozgov was also effective scoring off of his 3 off. rebs with a few put-backs, and scored off a few rolls to finish with 10 pts & 6 rebs. The 23-year-old Mozgov is playing his way into an NBA free-agent contract. Can be at least a serviceable reserve big in the League.

The Greeks mostly abandoned the motion that had been working for them in the tourney to focus on pounding the ball into post. Big men Giannis Bourousis & Sofo Schortsanitis got plenty of touches near the rim, just couldn't finish. Bourousis had 12 pts but shot just 4/14. Greece went with a heavy dose of Big Sofo in the 2nd half with mixed results. Though he had a few nice conversions for a total of 13 pts, Sofo only made 4/12 and continued his struggles from the FT line (5/9).

It's simple for Russia (2-2): if they beat Macedonia on Tuesday, they head to the quarters. A loss sets up a 3-way tie for 3rd place which will be ultimately decided by goal difference. Greece (3-1) meets France in a tilt to determine the #1 seed from Group E.


GROUP E: France 87, Croatia 79

I don't get to say this much, so here we go: France won this game thanks to some great outside shooting. France shot 12/26 on 3pters. for the game, including five crucial makes in the 4th. Soak it in Les Bleus faithful, because it may not happen again for another 50 games.

Boris Diaw scored most of 15 pts behind the arc, with a 4/8 from downtown. Diaw biggest 3pter came with 30 secs left, when he push the French lead to 84-77. Nic Batum joined into the unlikely French 3pt. party with three makes of his own. Batum was a stud with 18 pts, 5 rebs, & 2 blks.

Tony Parker tore up Croatia for 24 pts, 6 rebs, 6 assts, 2 stls & 3/8 on 3pts. France did an effective job moving the pick/roll to the sides, which didn't allow the Croatians to load up the middle for Parker's drives. France actually had a little more trouble on short jumpers than on their long looks.

It was almost a tale of two halves for Croatia. The 1st half saw Croatia leading at halftime thanks to nice inside-out offensive balance. But after the halftime break, Croatia lost all purpose in the 3rd quarter, in which they only managed 10 pts. Croatia's offense consisted of little more than Marko Popovic with a dash of Roko Ukic. In the 2nd half, the frontline gave them very little.

It seemed that anytime SG Marko Popovic touched the ball on the perimeter in the 2nd half, it ended with points. Popovic was drawing fouls with the slightest movements--the French weren't allowed to breathe on him. Marko went to the line 18 times, and when he wasn't scoring at the FT line, he was burying behind the 3pt. line (5/7). Popovic carried his team with 30 pts.

Croatia stormed to within four points midway thru the 4th thanks to Popovic with some help from Roko Ukic (11 pts). Then Coach Repesa decided to get his bigs involved, although they had done very little in the 2nd half. Three straight possessions where the ball was taken out of Popovic's or Ukic's hands. Nikola Vujcic had two quality scoring opportunities, but came away empty both times because he takes such a long time to gather himself to get his shot up. The other possession ended in a TO. Dicey decisions.

Pure speculation from afar, but Croatia looks like they would rather be home. They look uninspired and have little interest in pleasing their coach. I think Repesa has done a questionable job handling his squad. The substitution patterns are perplexing like they have been in the past. Thought they would miss Marko Tomas somewhat, but it's becoming more apparent with every game this team dearly misses his talent on the wings.

Whatever the case, Croatia still has a game to play with Germany on Tuesday that could be a play-in game to the quarters if Russia beats Macedonia as expected. I would say Croatia's the favorite over Germany, but Croatia is ripe to be eliminated.


GROUP E: Macedonia 86, Germany 75:

Macedonia kept its slim quarterfinal hopes alive with a big win vs. Germany. Veteran playmaker Vrbica Stefanov carried his squad with a impeccable shooting performance--8/11 overall for 25 pts. Macedonia's weapon of choice was the long-ball--11 for 22 from 3pt. land. SF Dime Tasovski banged home three bombs, while Vrbica hit four himself. Macedonia got another strong performance from its quality frontline of Jeremiah Massey, Pero Antic, & Todor Gecevski. Massey dropped 16 pts on 7/10 shooting, Antic showed off his face-up ability with three 3pters., and Gecevski helped with 9 & 6 rebs. Germany got some great shooting of its own from Lucca Staiger, who knocked down four of Germany's 11 3pt. makes. Big men Tim Ohlbrecht & Patrick Femerling pitched in with 13 & 12 respectively. Macedonia (1-3) must win vs. Russia on Tuesday if they want any chance of moving on to the next round. If Germany (1-3) loses to Croatia on Tuesday, they are done. If they win, they could either advance or have to wait for a tiebreaker, depending on the outcome of the Russia-Macedonia game.