Eurobasket 2009: Qualifying Round Tuesday
GROUP E: France 71, Greece 69
In game that would determine the winner of Group E, France prevailed over the Greeks thanks to a last-second jumper by recent SA Spurs draftee Nando De Colo.
De Colo only scored six points in the game but they all came at key spots in the last 2:00. His game-winner came off of an isolation on the left wing where he spun into a contested 15-footer. De Colo also added a driving lay-in and two free throws with 20 secs left.
Though maybe the most memorable thing about this game was the peculiar decision of France's Coach Collet to leave Tony Parker on the bench for the entire 4th quarter in a tight game. Did Collet want to give his young reserve guards a taste of a pressurized situation? Or was it that he wouldn't have minded if the French finished in 2nd place in Group E to possibly avoid Spain. Spain is likely the #4 seed out of Group F, so winning Group E does have its disadvantages.
You started to wonder even more after the final buzzer when De Colo had a "Should I not have done that?" sheepish look on his face after his shot. Also odd that De Colo and the Frenchies didn't seem all that excited about their last-second victory. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but there were some curious things happenings.
With Ronny Turiaf in foul trouble, France got a big lift from the reserve bigs Alain Koffi & Ali Traore. Koffi & Traore were factors on offense, hitting some short jumpers & scoring around the rim. Koffi also scored some of his 14 pts on putbacks off of his 3 off. rebs (6 total rebs). Traore put up an efficient 10 pts on 5-of-6 shooting. Both were great assets on the defensive end using their length & athleticism.
The French defense was stellar once again and turned the screws on one of the better offenses in the tourney. The guards moved their feet well to stay in front of their men. Help & recovery was excellent, especially from the bigs. The bigs (particularly Traore & Koffi) did a terrific job showing or switching, and their great athleticism lets them move their feet against smaller guards. Shut off V. Spanoulis from penetrating the lane, which is huge vs. Greece. Spanoulis rarely if ever got to the rim, only remember one to two lay-in attempts, and only got to the line four times.
Tony Parker played only 21 minutes but still managed to score 12 pts. Portland's Nic Batum helped with eight points, mostly coming on baseline drives. Boris Diaw did his usual disappearing act after having a good game prior--0 pts & 5 TOs for Diaw. Diaw seemed to be floating around in his own little world, looked clueless on the floor.
After shooting 20-for-38 from long range in the their last two games, France reverted back to their old form with a 3-for-12 day from 3pt. land. Why Greece never chose to feature more zone, I can't tell ya. Maybe they wanted to avoid Spain, as well.
France did unexpectedly help its cause by shooting 82% from the FT line. France had been shooting 59% before this game, dead last in FT% for Qualifying Round teams.
Vasilis Spanoulis seemed to score a chunk of his 16 pts on clutch 3-pointers in the 2nd half. Spanoulis hit a quick dribble pull-up over Turiaf at the top of the key to tie the game at 69 with 10 secs to play. Though, his most memorable 3pt. make came in the 3rd quarter where Vasilis lined up a jumper just inside the half-court line to beat the shot clock.
Spanoulis hit 4-of-6 3pters for the game, including another big make coming up the lane off a screen to cut the lead to 63-62 in the 4th.
Greece could not connect on multiple opportunities to knock down shots to grab the lead in the 2nd half. Greece only made 6-of-24 from behind the arc, and the normally reliable Antonis Fotsis couldn't find his touch (1-for-7 from 3pt.)
The French had serious troubles trying to contain Sofoklis Schortsanitis on the blocks. Sofo showed off more than his patented drop-steps. Mixed in two up/under step-thru moves (one led to a thunderous dunk) on his way to 12 pts on 4-for-4 fgs & 4-for-6 fts. The lucky thing for France was that Sofo could only manage 12 minutes of floor time because of foul trouble.
France is headed to the quarterfinals with a #1 seed, but there is a good chance Spain will get the #4 seed in Group F. Not a very nice prize for winning Group E. This loss dropped Greece to the #3 seed in Group E and they could face Slovenia, Turkey, or Spain in the quarterfinals. Not fun times for them either.
GROUP E: Croatia 70, Germany 68
In a win-or-go-home game, Croatia capitalized on a late flurry of German miscues to squeeze through to the Quarterfinal Round. Germany's quarterfinal hopes unraveled in the last six minutes of the 4th due to some untimely mistakes.
Germany committed six TOs over a four-minute stretch midway thru the 4th that allowed Croatia to go on a crucial 7-0 run. If the Germans want to point to one thing that sunk their chances in this game, it was turnovers--turned the ball over 20 times to only nine by Croatia.
Croatia were driven to victory by their big PG combo of Roko Ukic & Zoran Planinic. Roko was a blur on offense, constantly busting into the teeth of the defense. Ukic hit an array of runners throughout the game, including an difficult hanging 10-foot jumper in the lane off a spin move that gave Croatia a 59-57 lead. Roko also got all the way to rim for a few scores, including a big driving dunk to tie the game at 57. Planinic mixed in some outside makes (two 3pters.) with some work inside the arc, often setting teammates up out of the low post. Zoran finished with 11 pts & 4 assts.
Croatian bigman Sandro Nicevic came off the bench to chip in 10 points from inside & out. Nicevic & Marko Banic each corralled four off. rebs, while Banic came up with a huge off. board with 0:40 left that allowed for Zoran Planinic's driving lay-in for a 67-62 lead.
Croatia is notoriously tough on the offensive glass and they grabbed 13 off. rebs to Germany's 20 def. rebs. This nice 40% off. rebounding pct. helped soften the blow of a subpar 44% shooing day.
German PG Heiko Schaffartzik's perfect 18-point performance (6-for-6) was eerily similar to the Greece game, in which he knocked down all his shots, including draining 5-for-5 from long range just like vs. Greece. Heiko hit two monster bombs in the last minute, including a hurried, challenged corner 3pter. that cut the lead to 67-65 with 0:12 left.
Pat Femerling scored his 15 pts off a few rolls, pick/pop long 2-pointers, and a few step-thru moves in the low post. Jan Jagla scored all his 11 pts in the 1st half mostly off of three 3pters.
Not much was expected of this limited roster devoid of primary scoring options, but they played well above their means. The Germans only won one game but they were competitive in every game and only one loss was by double figures. Just getting out of the first round was an accomplishment. Dirk Bauermann has been one of the finer national team coaches in the Europe the last five years. The German coach should be commended for the effort & physical defense he squeezed out of this squad.
Have to imagine this inspired play has made a positive impression with the FIBA brass for a wild-card consideration. If Germany can convince the FIBA executive board that Nowitzki wants to play next summer, it will be hard to leave the Germans out of Turkey. Germany's int'l future looks to be encouraging with promising young talent like Schaffartzik, Robin Benzing, Elias Harris & Tim Ohlbrecht.
Croatia was not overly impressive today (like they have been all tourney), but they did secure the final quarterfinal spot out of Group E. Croatia's quarterfinal opponent will be the winner of the Turkey-Slovenia game on Wednesday. Croatia has underachieved up to this point, and find it hard to believe they can advance to the semis.
Russia 71, Macedonia 69: The Russians turned back Macedonia's last gasp effort for a playoff spot thanks mostly to a dominating performance by 23-year-old center Timo Mozgov. Mozgov destroyed the Macedonians for 25 pts (11-for-17) & 11 rebs. He particularly ate them up on the offensive glass where he ripped down 10 off. rebs (That must be some type of Eurobasket record). The offensive rebounds were a huge bonus considering that Russia shot just 40% overall, and 1-for-15 on 3pts. PG Anton Ponkrashov complemented Mozgov on the perimeter with 10 pts, 7 assts & 6 rebs. In what could be his last national team appearance, veteran PG Vrbica Stefanov finished a strong tournament with 16 pts & 4 assts. Center Todor Gecevski chipped in with 16 pts. Russia (3-2) winds up with the #2 seed in Group E, which means they will either face Slovenia or Serbia in the quarters.