Sunday, September 30, 2007

FIBA Lookalikes

We wrap up our summer FIBA coverage with another crop of lookalikes. This time we focus on international players/coaches who kept up appearances in this summer's FIBA Americas & FIBA European Championships. And we'll start off with a nod to Conan, and do a little "If They Mated" with Borat & Bones.

Borat + Brent Barry


Federico Kammerichs (Argentina)

Geico Caveman & Lazaros Papadopoulos (Greece)


Non (Superman I & II) & Lazaros Papadopoulos (Greece)

Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) & Juan Navarro (Grizzlies/Spain)

Ales Pipan (Slovenian Coach) & Lenny Clarke, actor (Rescue Me)

Stewart (Beavis & Butthead) & Jan Jagla (Germany/Penn St.)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Early Take: 2008 Olympic Basketball Power Rankings

Also see: 2008 FIBA Qualifying Tournament Preview (July '08)

With the conclusion of the Eurobasket, the qualifying season for the 2008 Olympic men's basketball competition has ended for this year. We thought it would be a good time to take an early look at sizing up the 21 countries which are still alive in the race for Olympic gold - both the nine countries that have qualified for the 12-team field in Beijing, and the 12 nations which will compete at the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament that will determine the final three spots.

So, here we go with some early handicapping of the 2008 Olympic field, with some FIBA Power Rankings:

Qualified for Beijing (9)

1. USA (Qualified as: FIBA Americas Champion)
The utterly premature comparisons of the current Team USA to the Dream Team are laughable, just because this team hasn't done anything yet, and also considering that nearly every team in the Olympic field is better than any team the U.S. faced in the FIBA Americas tournament (and they won't have the extra advantage of playing in the home comforts of Vegas).

That said, everything in Jerry Colangelo's plan appears to be coming together beautifully. As much as poor shooting has been perceived to be the universal cause for Team USA's international losses in recent years (though a significant problem in '04), the real problems have been a lack of team cohesion, a lack of respect for opponents, and a lack of knowledge of the opposing players and their strengths and weaknesses, plus subpar point guard play.

All of these problems appear to be getting fixed. And then on top of that, if you have Kobe focusing like a man possessed - actually playing D like a man worthy of the All-Defense 1st Team nods he inexplicably continues to receive in the league - then man, this looks like a good ballclub.

This year's team looked remarkably comfortable with the international game - if they can keep the core of the 2007 roster, bring back D-Wade and add a couple more quality bigs, they should be legitimate favorites to bring home the gold in 2008, as opposed to the paper tigers that the U.S. has fielded in recent FIBA competitions.

But if you think Team USA is a lock in a single-elimination medal round, just ask team no. 2 on our list....

2. SPAIN (Qualified as: 2006 FIBA World Champion)
The men of Espana are undoubtedly still smarting (as Hubie would say) from the shocking loss to Russia in the Eurobasket final a week ago. But make no mistake, Spain is still the best European team out there: they are loaded with legit NBA talent, they play well together and understand their roles, and they are generally well-coached.

Spain gets the nod over Argentina for no. 2 narrowly because its core players are just coming into the heart of their primes (ages as of summer '08) - Gasol (28), Calderon (26), Navarro (28), for ex. - while Argentina will be starting to get a bit long in the tooth. These longtime starters will all be over 30 once plays tips in Beijing: Ginobili (31), Sanchez (31), Oberto (33).

3. ARGENTINA (Qualified as: FIBA Americas 2nd Place)
Don't get me wrong, I'm not burying the Argentinians, they remain a threat to upset Team USA and win gold. And, if anything, the strength of their national basketball program was proven this summer, as they were able to grab one of the two spots from the FIBA Americas even though six of their top nine players skipped the qualifying tournament.

They're still a legit contender to repeat as Olympic champions because, beyond their talent level (six players should be rotation players in the league this season), they still play together with incredible cohesion and a high basketball IQ on both ends of the floor.

4. LITHUANIA (Qualified as: Eurobasket 3rd Place)
What a difference a year makes. Or, more specifically, what a difference Sarunas Jasikevicious and Ramunas Siskauskas make. Those two players skipped the 2006 World Championships, and Lithuania struggled. They returned to the national team for Eurobasket, and the Runnin' Sabonises recaptured their mojo.

They appeared to be headed for a showdown in the final with Spain until the Russians knocked them off in the semis after some bad breaks -- notably, a Jasikevicious injury plus some tough scheduling (they played their semi on 24 hours rest while Russia had had 48 hours off). As long as their two stars return next summer, Lithuania should be a medal contender in Beijing.

5. RUSSIA (Qualified as: Eurobasket Champion)
You really can't say enough about how the Russians maximized their potential at Eurobasket under the leadership of coach David Blatt, who exploited the talents of Andrei Kirilenko and Viktor Khryapa brilliantly. Our hats are off to them, but we've gotta call a spade a spade: we still think that Spain and Lithuania are better teams overall. Certainly, though, no one will look forward to matching up against Coach Blatt's constantly morphing defenses in Beijing.

Couple last things on Eurobasket... as I was looking up whether Blatt is under contract for Beijing (he is), I found this story from a Russian news agency and I just liked how they described Kirilenko's impact at the Eurobasket:
    And the fourth factor was the team's unquestionable leader, NBA player Andrei Kirilenko, who was named the best forward and best player of the European championship. Without acting like a star, he had complete psychological contact with other players, who respect Kirilenko for his talent, smooth relations with coaches, and dedicated play subordinated to the team game.
And then I also found a good Q&A with Kirilenko from Johnny Hareas at Here's an excerpt:
    Russia outscored Spain 26-10 in the post during the final game. How were you so effective in the paint?

    Kirilenko: It is not that we are effective in the paint, we are very effective defensively in the paint. We don’t let other teams score. Have you ever heard the Brazilian slogan in soccer? They say: You’re going to score as many as you can, we’re going to score as many as we want.’ We play anti-Brazilian soccer, which means, we are going to score some on you, but you’re not going to score at all. That is the slogan of our team. We are supposed to play great defense, which we did for the whole tournament. Spain scored only 59 points in the final game, and they are a world championship team. They have such great shooters and we were able to hold them under 60 points. That is a huge compliment to all of our players.
[Note: the 3 teams which qualify at the pre-Olympic tournament (see below) will probably all ultimately slot in at around this 6-8 range, and push the rest of the field down, but for now....]

6. AUSTRALIA (Qualified as: FIBA Oceania Champion)
The "Boomers" are developing some nice young talent to integrate in with some of their national team vets. Their overall talent level is less than that of the European teams, but they do play well together. Andrew Bogut is their most notable player.

7. CHINA (Qualified as: Host Nation)
China will be hard pressed to match its performance in Athens under coach Del Harris, when they qualified for the second round and ended up finishing eighth after an upset of Serbia.

Of course, they should be buoyed by the home crowds, and should be able to count on two constants: Yao's dominance inside and crappy guard play outside. The X factor really may be how the development of Yi Jianlian progresses and how much he is able to contribute by next summer.

8. ANGOLA (Qualified as: Afrobasket Champion)
The class of African basketball, Angola was a joy to watch at the 2006 Worlds, but the field is a bit too stacked for them to make too much noise in Beijing. That said, don't be surprised if Angola is able to pull off an upset or two: they unquestionably have the talent and potential to do so.

9. IRAN (Qualified as: FIBA Asia Champion)
Just qualifying was a huge accomplishment for Iran, as they surprisingly won the FIBA Asia tournament. Iran will clearly be the worst team in Beijing, and it'll be surprising if they so much as win a game. If the draw pits Iran vs. the U.S., however, it could be a mildly dramatic matchup, depending upon what the geopolitical landscape looks like next summer....

In the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament (Again, 12 teams for 3 spots)

1. GREECE (Qualified as: Eurobasket 4th Place)
The Greeks should be the odds-on favorite to win the tournament, although they did not look nearly as good in the 2007 Eurobasket as they had in either the 2006 Worlds (silver medal) or the 2005 Eurobasket (gold medal).

While Greece should qualify, if they are going to make any noise in Beijing, they really need Antonis Fotsis (missed Eurobasket due to injury) and Sofoklis Schortsanitis (missed Eurobasket due to being fat) to return as contributors next year, and they also need leader Theo Papaloukas to return to form after a subpar Eurobasket.

2. SLOVENIA (Qualified as: Eurobasket 7th Place)
Narrowly missed making the semifinals at the Eurobasket due to a heartbreaking loss to Greece in the quarters. Still, Slovenia had an impressive tournament, and have definite upside potential, considering that NBA players Beno Udrih, Sasha Vujacic, Boki Nachbar and Primoz Brezec, plus a good Euroleague guard, Sani Becirovic, did not suit up in Spain.

These guys could end up with one of the more talented rosters in Beijing, though sometimes mo' talent = mo' problems, as it's often not as easy as it looks to just parachute talented players into the middle of an established team. Often, the chemistry just doesn't work; just ask Turkey, who crashed out of Eurobasket despite adding Hedo Turkoglu and Memo Okur to its squad this summer.

3. GERMANY (Qualified as: Eurobasket 5th Place)
It should be a dogfight for the third and final Olympic spot granted at the qualifying tournament. We'll give the slight edge to Germany because they'll have the best player in the tournament in Dirk, even though they don't have much else.

4. CROATIA (Qualified as: Eurobasket 6th Place)
While Croatia doesn't really have much in the way of notable NBA players these days, it does have a nice collection of Euroleague talent, and they played well overall at Eurobasket '07, en route to a sixth place finish. Definite contender for an Olympic spot.

(Qualified as: FIBA Americas 4th Place)
While Serbia, France, Italy and Turkey have to be high on the list of this summer's most disappointing teams, special mention needs to be reserved for Brazil just because they blew such a golden opportunity. All the Selecao had to do was defeat an Argentina team playing without most of its top talent, and they would qualify.

But Brazil was horribly disorganized and mismanaged at key moments of the FIBA Americas tournament, relegating them to the qualifying tournament, where they'll have an uphill battle trying to claim an Olympic spot that was once in their grasp. Coach Lula Ferreira has deservedly been dismissed, but it is likely too little, too late.

6. PUERTO RICO (Qualified as: FIBA Americas 3rd Place)
P.R. still has a nice collection of backcourt players in Arroyo, Berea, and Ayuso, but they are not nearly as dangerous on the international scene as they've been in recent years due to a depleted frontcourt following the international retirements of big men Daniel Santiago and Jose Ortiz.

7. CANADA (Qualified as: FIBA Americas 5th Place)
If they had Steve Nash, I'd probably move the Canadians straight up to the number 3 spot, and eagerly await a potential Nash-Dirk showdown with one last Olympic spot on the line. But considering that Nash's career has taken off to new levels since he's opted to rest during the summer, and that'll he be 34 next summer, I just don't see it happening. I'm sure that Nashy, great Canadian patriot that he is, would love to make another run at the Olympics, but I think his head will ultimately overrule his big red maple leaf of a heart.

8. NEW ZEALAND (Qualified as: FIBA Oceania 2nd Place)
After a surprising 4th place finish in the '02 Worlds, the Kiwis have fallen on rough times the last two years. They backed into the playoff portion of the '06 Worlds, and really did not deserve a playoff spot, but lucked out because they were placed in the weakest opening round group. And this year, they got absolutely dismantled (twice) by the Aussies in the Oceania Zone best-of-three tourney. The Kiwis definitely have decent talent - Mark Dickel, Craig Bradshaw, Kirk Penney - and should have played better than they have the last few years. They do have the requisite talent to make a run at the final qualifying spot, but their margin of error is very slim.

9. LEBANON (Qualified as: FIBA Asia 2nd Place)
File Lebanon under the same category as Brazil: they blew their golden opportunity this summer. Lebanon actually played pretty well at the 2006 Worlds, even scoring an upset of France, and appeared to be the odds-on favorite to capture the one available spot at the FIBA Asia Championships. But they were upset by Iran in the championship game, and now they have a mountain to climb to even get near Beijing.

10. KOREA (Qualified as: FIBA Asia 3rd Place)
If Ha Seung Jin becomes both an NBA All-Star and People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive by next summer, then I would give Korea a chance to get an Olympic spot.

11. CAMEROON (Qualified as: Afrobasket 2nd Place)
It was a great accomplishment for Cameroon, with UCLA's Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, to advance further than Nigeria, Senegal and Egypt, and reach the finals of the Afrobasket tourney, which got them into the qualifying tournament.

(Qualified as: Afrobasket 3rd Place)
If Cameroon finishing 2nd in Africa was a great accomplishment, then Cape Verde finishing 3rd was a truly amazing accomplishment. I mean, look at this place - it's just 1557 square miles, with a population of 420,000, even Puerto Rico is about ten times that. Really, really an incredible achievement that they are standing among the final 21 nations.

This pre-Olympic qualifying tournament is really somewhat ridiculous, by the way. With more and more international players in the NBA, and finding it hard to commit to a summer of basketball because it's so taxing on their bodies after the grueling 82-game season, FIBA's answer is to add an extra tournament on top of the Olympics? Just seems unnecessary, especially when several teams in the qualifying tournament have no realistic chance of making the top three.

Chris Sheridan did throw in this note at the end of one of his Eurobasket reports:
    And regarding that pre-Olympic qualifying tourney early next July, an impeccably-placed FIBA source told me there was quite a bit of griping from the European federations about the timing of that tournament, many believing it is coming too soon after the NBA and European League seasons end. I was also told by the same source that FIBA is toying with the idea of splitting it into two tournaments, with two teams qualifying for Beijing out of one tournament and one team from the other.
One last note: looking far ahead, to the 2008-09 NBA season, the Spurs really dodged a bullet in this summer's qualifying process. When the summer started, it sure looked like Argentina and France were both headed to the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament, which possibly meant extremely long 2008 summers for three of their starters - Parker, Ginobili and Oberto. S.A. must be thrilled that Argentina was able to qualify this summer, and can't really be too displeased that France finished 8th at the Eurobasket, just missing the last spot in the qualifying tournament. I'm guessing that Pop may have a bottle of his favorite Malbec on the way to Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez for his fine work in getting his club to Beijing this summer.

On the flip side, the Mavs cannot be too pleased that Dirk may face an extended summer of carrying Team Germany on his back, especially because I'm sure they're hoping and expecting that his 2008 summer vacation won't start nearly as early as it did in 2007.

Also see: 2008 FIBA Qualifying Tournament Preview (July '08)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Eurobasket '07 All-Tourney

• Also: Early look at 2008 Olympic power rankings


MVP--A. Kirilenko (Russia)
- Was an all-around force thru-out Euro '07. Defensive juggernaut, who was allowed to roam like a free safety on defense. Hit the glass every game (especially the off. glass), and finished at the basket well the entire tourney. Came up huge on the offensive end in the Semi win over Lith. Andrei's sick Euro '07 stat line--18ppg, 8.6rpg (3rd overall), 2.4apg, 2.2spg (1st overall), & 1.8 bpg (2nd overall).

P. Gasol (Spain) - Was about 5 minutes away from a MVP, but those last 5 minutes were a doozy. Still, the meltdown at the ft line & costly TOs can't take away how dominant Pau was thru-out the tourney--1st in the tourney in FG% (62%) & his 18.8 ppg was good enough for 4th in scoring. But just as important as his offensive production was his defensive presence lurking on the backline of the vaunted Spanish zone. Was a defensive factor every game, turning back penetrators & forcing kick-outs, and turning back shot attempts to the tune of 1.8 bpg (2nd overall). But have to imagine that final quarter of 3/8 fts & 2 TOs will haunt him for awhile, especially since he did it front of the home folks.

D. Nowitzki (Germ) - Did everything he was supposed to do for his team, and helped Germany overachieve a bit by grabbing the 5th spot. Was even more of a one-man gang than usual this year since Okulaja cooled off as the tourney went on--Dirk was the only German in double figures & led the tourney in scoring at 24 ppg. Was 2nd overall in rebounding at 8.7 rpg, but shot only 31% from 3pt. He was throwing up a fair amount of rushed shots, but you can't really fault him since Germany does not have great options after Dirk.

S. Jasikevicius (Lith) - Was making a case for MVP of the tourney thru the opening rounds, but then he re-aggravated a hammy injury late in the 2nd round. He really never recovered his early round form in the playoffs, and Lithuania suffered accordingly. But still have to give him the nod for 1st team for his superb play through the first 5-6 games. Masterful controlling the offensive flow & directing Lithuanians. Ran the high pick-n-roll to perfection, whipping precision passes all over the floor, drilling jumpers when needed; sort of poor man's Steve Nash. We have already been on record multiple times in the last few weeks that he would be a valuable NBA back-up if put in the right situation--give him latitude like Nash to make decisions on the floor & put him in pick-n-roll situations. Saras led the tourney in assists with 5.6 apg to go along with 10.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg & 40% from 3pt.

Vik Khyrapa (Russia) - Probably the unsung hero of the Eurobasket. A poor man's AK47, but that's probably underrating his perfomance, he was nearly as good as AK. Underrated passer, and passes well off the move. Versatile defender that Coach Blatt let loose inside & out just like AK47, and Blatt allowed him to roam like AK. Crushed the boards every game & improved his shooting as the tourney progressed--Vik shot 45.7% overall & 40% from 3pt. Pretty sweet line for Khyrapa--11.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg (4th overall), 3.2 apg (5th overall) & 2 spg (2nd only to AK).


J. Calderon (Spain)
- His outside shooting was the most impressive aspect of his play. Calderon's main weakness has been his outside shooting but he has shown over the last year that he has soldified his status as a reliable shooter--3rd in the tourney in FG% with 55.5% & was 19/38 from 3pt. Also, did a nice job pushing the ball in transition & attacked the basket when necessary.

T. Parker (France) - Sort of wore down as the tourney went on, and can't blame him since so much of the offensive burden falls on him. Has no one who can consistently spread the floor around him, making his patented drives thru the lane tough to come by. Was keeping the sagging defenses France usually faces honest early in the tourney. But his outside shooting tailed off as the tourney progressed, and looked very frustrated that the defenses were loading up on him. Still managed 20 ppg (2nd overall) on 47% overall, 32.7% from 3pt. Did have two costly missed free throws that could have tied games with seconds remaining (Slovenia & Russ).

Ramunas Siskauskas (Lith) - Versatile weapon for Lithuania. Did a good job doing the two things he known for: drilling 3pts (44.4%) & bulling his way into the lane to draw fouls. Also, pitched in 4 rpg, 2.6 apg, & 1.4 spg. Could possibly be a solid rotation wing in the NBA, though not sure he's interested & at his age of 28/29 he might have only a few productive years left.

R. Nesterovic (Slovenia) - 2nd summer in a row where he played well for Slovenia. Was a major interior presence on both ends of the floor. Was the focal point of Slovenia's strong defensive play, and was a major deterrent on the backline like Gasol--Rasho led the Euros in blocks (1.9) Also, did a solid job on offense converting in the painted area, especially using his nice little hook shot. Always thought he got a bad rap in San Antonio, but always felt he did a solid job in the Spurs' defensive scheme. Rasho pitched in with 12 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.9 bpg, & 50% shooting.

Matjaz Smodis (Slovenia) - Just beat out Songaila for this spot on the 2nd team. Very consistent performer from game to game. Did damage inside & out: drilled perimeter jumpers & also showed off a nice collection of polished post moves. Would have led the tourney in FG% (62.7%) but he did not qualify with only 7 fg attempts per. Shot 12/23 from 3pt. Averaged 13.4 ppg in only 23 mins per. Also an underrated passer. Could be at least a solid back-up 4 in the NBA, and is one of the better veteran prospects in Europe. Quickness is an issue, but has nice bulk to be able to hold position on the post combined with a refined skill set of perimeter shooting, post moves, & passing. Is 29, but other 6-9 Euro vets like Garbajosa & Oberto have shown they can come to the league in their late 20s and provide quality minutes.

Honorable Mention: JR Holden (Russia); H. Turkoglu (Turkey); D. Songaila, L. Kleiza, R. Kaukenas, K. Lavrinovic (Lithuania); A. Okulaja (Germany); M. Belinelli & M. Bulleri (Italy); J. Lakovic (Slovenia); Y. Halperin, Y. Greene, & M. Tapiro (Israel); R. Fernandez (Spain); V. Spanoulis, D. Dikoudis & D. Diamantidis (Greece); M. Kasun, Z. Planinic & M. Popovic (Croatia)

[Note: We should clarify that these are The Painted Area's choices for a Eurobasket All-Tournament Team. The official team consisted of Kirilenko (MVP), Gasol, Nowitzki, Calderon and Siskauskas.]

Coach-of-Euro '07: David Blatt (Russia)
This one was no-contest. Did one of the finest coaching jobs in Eurobasket history guiding a squad that was not even in the 24-team field of the '06 World Champs to the top of Euro basketball. Expected the defense to be staunch under Coach Blatt (and it was), but really could not picture a way where this team would generate enough offense to seriously compete for a medal this year. Love how he's willing to mix up his defenses constantly, and will even show multiple zone looks instead of the standard 2-3. Mentioned a few times during the Eurobasket, I occasionally had trouble deciphering exactly what type of defense Russia was in, and it seemed it was some type of hybrid look. He would often let Kirilenko & Khyrapa just freelance all over the defensive end. Name had been bandied about before for asst. gigs in the NBA, and have to imagine after the last few weeks, Blatt's profile has been raised in the eyes of NBA organizations even further.

• Also: Early look at 2008 Olympic power rankings

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Russia Shocks Spain for Euro Supremacy

Eurobasket '07 Final: Russia 60, Spain 59

- Lenin, Stalin, Putin... Holden? Who would've thunk it when Ronald Reagan labeled the USSR the "Evil Empire" back in the '80s: Russia wins the Eurobasket led by an American coach, on a last-second shot by a guy from Pittsburgh, J.R. Holden (see above).

- Holden did not really have the greatest game today, forcing up some rushed shots thru-out the game, but he came up huge in the last :30 secs. Made a great read to double down on Pau and stripped him on the post with :25 secs. Then after a possession where Russia had trouble getting organized, Holden took it upon himself to create an opportunity with the shot clock winding down. He drove to his right, pump-faked Calderon off his feet, and stepped thru into a mid-range jumper that bounced high off the rim, a la Allan Houston, then found its way thru the net, giving Russia a 60-59 lead with :02 secs. Then Spain got one last chance to win, and Gasol got off a jumper that just rimmed out, and the upset was complete.

Watch the final 30 seconds here, as JR channels MJ, circa 1998:

- Stunning upset that Russia could knock off such a superior talented team at home. I have to imagine Pau & Spain will have a mighty hard time getting over this one. This thing was set up perfectly for them: the best team in the tourney, fully stocked with their best possible players, playing at home, & not having to play arguably the 2nd best team in Lithuania.

- It was a strange game, in that Spain seemed to be in command for most of it, and one really wondered how Russia was staying in the game because they were having so much trouble generating offense. But they fought back from a 12-point deficit in the 2nd quarter to trail just 34-31 at the half.

Then, the Russians appeared to be in huge trouble when AK picked up his 4th foul (players foul out with 5 in FIBA) with 2:32 left in the 3rd Q, trailing 49-41. But they fought back and actually made up ground, down just 52-51 when Kirilenko returned with 7:42 in the 4th.

Still, it looked like it was over when Gasol put Spain up 59-54 with 1:48 left, but the Russkies kept coming--before Holden hit his game-winner with :02 left, Russia led for just 1:00 total in the entire game.

- The big reason that Spain lost was that they had a terrible time converting good opportunities--they were a dreadful 7/35 (20%) on 2-pt. FGs on the night and made just 15/26 FT (58%). After such a tremendous Eurobasket for two weeks, Pau Gasol had a nightmare of a final--he just couldn't connect on his interior shots. Some of that has to be credited to the Russian defense, but Pau just could not get shots to fall.

Then he had a 4th quarter he would soon like to have wiped from the records. Pau was 3/8 on FTs and combined that with 3 TOs, including the costly TO with :25 left. All these miscues would have been forgotten if Pau could have knocked down a desperation jumper with :02 left, but his shot just rimmed out. Overall on the night, the Spanish go-to guy was just 4/13 from the floor and 5/12 at the line (14 pts, 14 reb, 3 ast, 3 blk, 5 TO).

- The Russian defense was stout as usual, especially in the interior, and shut down Spain's vaunted attack of multiple weapons. 2nd game where they did great job defending in the interior and did not allow Spain to get clean looks inside of 12 feet. Russia actually held their opponents to 41.3% on 2pt attempts for the tourney, held Spain to 10 pts in the 4th quarter & forced 6 Spanish TOs in the 4th. Russia led the tourney in steals (8.4 per) and forced 15.8 TOpg--Spain had 15 TOs. And they gave Spain a dose of their own medicine by constantly switching up their defensive looks, and mixing some more weird hybrid alignments that Blatt used successfully all tourney.

- Kirilenko pretty much got his offense either by dunks or free throws. But his biggest play came, as you might expect, at the defensive end, where he made a big steal with a minute remaining which led to Morganuv cutting the game to 59-58. AK47 was a force inside and out on defense as usual and was deservedly named the tournament MVP. He had 17 points, 5 rebs, a block and a steal in the final.

- Not sure the public realizes what a great tourney Vik Khryapa of the Bulls had. He was basically a poor man's AK47, doing a little bit of everything, and teamed with Andrei to form a potent defensive duo. What was great about Khryapa was his great versatility on defense--Blatt had him inside & out, freelancing like AK47. His passing is underrated as well--he moved the ball great all tourney long, and he is an adept passer off the move as well. He crashed the glass every game, and today was no different, 12 rebs to go with 4 assts & 3 stls.

- Big man Alexei Savrasenko did a nice job slipping free in the paint for some easy looks (10 pts). But maybe more important was his interior defensive presence, and his individual defense on Pau was commendable.

- One positive that Spain (and the Raptors) can take away from Euro '07 is that Jose Calderon might have solved his main weakness: outside shooting. Calderon has been stroking the longball great (50% for the tourney) and he was once again sharp from the perimeter, scoring all of his 15 pts off of 3pts (5/7). Curiously, Caledron was on the bench from about 6:30 to the 3:00 mark in the fourth quarter, even though he only had 3 fouls.

- Despite the great point-guard play, Spain could not get the kind of production they expected & needed from their 2 talented shooting guards. After a 23-point outing vs. Greece, Navarro was nowhere to be found, forcing some looks to end with 0 pts on 0/5 from the field. Meanwhile, Rudy Fernandez contributed just 5 points.

- Can't say enough about the job Russian coach David Blatt did in Spain the last two weeks. Knew he was one of the finest coaches in Europe and he would help Team Russia overachieve & finds ways to mask their lack of offensive firepower. But I figured just getting into the quarters would be about Russia's ceiling, maybe the semis at best, but that's it. Blatt's name has been bandied about before in reference to a NBA gig, at least at the assistant level to begin. And I'm sure some NBA clubs' interest might be piqued after this Eurobasket. I know my partner probably would not mind at all if the Celtics "forgot" Doc Rivers at the airport one road trip, and replaced him with Blatt.

- This game should be a reminder to Americans who have already gotten way ahead of themselves in comparing the current Team USA to the Dream Team: medal rounds of FIBA competitions are NCAA Tournament-style one-and-done knockouts. Spain is a better team than Russia, hands down, but on this day, the Russians fought like hell and the bounces went their way, and now they are the champions of Europe. Anything can happen in a single game of basketball.

(Note: If you're coming in on Monday to catch up on the weekend, please make sure to check out our post on the epic semi between Spain and Greece, which includes highlights from that classic, and look back at Greece's incredible comeback vs. Slovenia in the quarters on Friday.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Kirilenko Propels Russia To Final

Euro '07 Semi: Russia 86, Lithuania 74

- Russia's cinderella run will continue. In this game, they knocked off arguably the most potent team in this Euro '07 not named Spain. Russia took control of the game early, and were able to hold off all of Lithuania's multiple runs in the 2nd half. Every time Lithuania made a push in the 2nd half, they were held at bay by Kirilenko's heroics. Though, I'm sure Lithuania would like a do-over on the semi but next time with the services of a healty Saras.

- Kirilenko did it all offensively: jumpers, turnaround jumpers, post-ups, & driving lay-ins. His key sequence of the 2nd half came in the 3rd quarter, after Lithuania made a run to tie the game at 52, and they seemed ready to take the momentum away from Russia. But AK47 single-handedly sparked a 8-0 run with a 3pt., then on the next offensive possession snaking his way to a falling down lay-in plus the foul. Then on the ensuing def. possession AK made a gigantic block on a Kleiza dunk attempt, which led into a JR Holden bucket to all-of-a-sudden make the game 60-52. Huge sequence for Russia. But that was not it for AK, he added some more big plays in the 4th when Lithuania made a few more mini-runs. Andrei ended the day with 29 pts on 10/14 (8/11 fts), 8 rebs (4 off), 3 stls, & 3 blks. Jeezum Frickin' Crow.

- Viktor Khyrapa continued his strong Euro '07 play, basically being a poor man's AK47 with great all-around play. Khyrapa's versatile defense has been huge all tourney, and he has been drilling his outside looks lately, going 3/5 from 3pt. today after a 4/4 3pt outing in the quarters. Vik's varied stat line for the day: 15 pts, 5 rebs, 4 assts, & 2 stls. JR Holden was also a key cog in the Russian attack once again, hitting some clutch shots himself in the 2nd half (7 pts in 4th) on his way to 18 & 6 rebs.

- The Russian defense had a big hand the victory, and they were very effective shutting down Lithuania inside the 3pt. line. Again they looked to be playing a lot of the hybrid-type of defense (Kirilenko and Khyrapa roaming everywhere) I mentioned before in the prelims--it's hard to exactly tell what Russia is in sometimes, and I'm sure it confuses their opponents. Kirilenko, Savrasenko, & Khyrapa protected the interior wonderfully & made the game rough for the Lithuanian bigs.

- As good as AK47 was for Russia, Ramunas Siskauskas was just as good for Lith. He was the one Lith. player answering AK's play with some unstoppable play of his own. Anyway you want it, Siskauksas was giving it today: 3pts, 3pts off-the-dribble, pull-up mid-rangers, drawing fouls as usual, & bullish drives. Siskauskas' line for the day--30 pts, 4 rebs, 4 assts, 5 stls, & 5/10 on 3pt. Jeezum Frickin' Crow as well.

- Don't want to make excuses for Lithuania, but Saras definitely was not himself today, and was obviously laboring from his re-aggravation of his leg injury a few games back. Saras forced up some real bad shots, and continued to have some issues with TOs (5). Only 3 assts, and did not have the same swerve to his game, which is always bad news for Lith.

- After Linas Kleiza & Darius Songaila combined powers to cause damage the night before, they found that working vs. the vaunted Russia interior defense was not so easy. The Lith forwards combined for only 13 pts on a combined 3/15 shooting. Rimas Kaukenas was the only other Lithuanian is double figures besides Siskauksas with 12 pts.

- Russia heads to the final to play heavy fave Spain. But Lithuania still has more to play for than just a bronze medal. With Spain in the finals, there is still one more Olympic bid up for grabs, and the bronze medal winner gets the spot. I think Lith is in a tough spot with having no days of rest to get Saras better. Though Greece has to be physically & emotionally spent from the last few days, I still have to give them the edge for the bronze strictly because Saras is laboring, and he's so vital to the Lith offense.

Spain Outlasts Greece in Epic Battle

Euro '07 Semis: Spain 82, Greece 77

- Maybe as intense and entertaining a game as I've ever seen, certainly in FIBA. Both teams expended every bit of energy they could muster and left everything on the floor. I know I'm getting cliche-y, but don't know a better way to describe this game. Spain's natural talent advantage basically pulled them thru & helped them hold off the gritty Greeks. With both teams exerting max effort, and can't imagine either team could have played any harder. Have to say I was spent after watching the game.

Watch the highlights of this classic:

- Greece really had no answer for Gasol. Thought they did as good a job as expected, particularly Tsartsaris, who had limited success impeding Pau. Pau rose to the occasion today & showed why he is the most dominant player in Euro '07. Such a deterrent on the backline of the Spanish defense. Pau continued to make a case for Euro '07 MVP today: 23 pts on 7/10 (9/10 fts), 6 rebs, & 3 blks.

- Have to understand Greece is not blessed with natural offensive talent, and Coach Yannakis has to find creative ways to wring every last drop of talent out of his roster. Impressive job having Greece push Spain to the limit in Madrid, especially without the services of arguably their best offensive talent, Antonis Fotsis & another offensive factor, Big Sofoklis.

- Jose Calderon continues to showcase his improved jumper--helped Spain rocket out of the gates with 3/3 3pts in the 1st quarter (4/8 on 3s overall). Jose's biggest 3pt of day came at the 4:00 mark of the 4th that helped Spain regain the lead at 68-67. Then he made a huge steal up high, and took it the distance for lay-in to push the Spain lead to 74-68 with 1:50. Jose ended with 18 pts, 3 assts, & 2 stls.

- Juan Navarro provided a huge spark in the 3rd quarter scoring 10 points, combining with Gasol's 8 3rd quarter points for all Spain's 3rd quarter points. Had a big 3pt. to start the 4th that allowed Spain to regain lead at 62-60, then at 3:30 drove the lane for another bucket to give Spain a 70-67 lead. Juan had 23 pts & 5/6 from 3pt. land, a few tough ones with hands in his face. Garbajosa could not find the range, 0/5 shooting, but Jorge brought his usual little things to the fiesta--5 rebs, 4 assts, 2 stls--including a big steal with a minute remaining.

- Vassilis Spanoulis was a one-man wrecking machine on offense. He basically single-handedly kept Greece in the game on the offensive end. Spanoulis drilled pull-up jumpers all game from everywhere--I believe he had 3 tough running bankers alone. When he couldn't get his shot up, he created for his teammates off his dribble penetration, which even Spain's zone could not bottle up. Spain could not contain him--Spanoulis had 24 pts on 10/14 & 5 assts. Role-playing SF Panagiotis Vasilopoulus provided a nice lift for the Greece offense with 3 3pts. for 10 pts & soild defense.

- Even though some of the numbers don't indicate it, Greece's defense was impressive, especially a tremendous display in the 2nd quarter. Greece got back to creating havoc like last year, with dogged rotations & quick hands that were a staple of their '06 defense. Their activity lead to 11 steals, and 16 Spain TOs overall. Dimis Diamantidis led the defensive attack by scrambling all over the court disrupting the Spain attack & getting his hands on everything--had a beautiful steal where he took the dribble right out of Cabezas' hand in a split second.

- Dimis Diamantidis once again was too reticent looking for his shot, but contrary to other reports, had a solid all-around game--9 rebs, 3 assts, 2 stl, 1 blks (I counted 2-3) & the aforementioned great defense. But the unquestioned Greek leader, Theo Papaloukas, could not replicate the magic he performed the night before. Never got into a rhythm, and had a rough evening offensively: tried to challenge Gasol but was denied multiple times, and fumbled away the ball a few times, including a mishandled drive with :10 secs left.

- Thought Greece attacked the vaunted Spanish zone very well. Penetrated it very effectively (Spanoulis in particular), moved the ball well, and shot the ball better than they normally do from outside--8/22 from 3pt.

- Greece also helped its cause by grabbing 14 off rebs to only 4 for Spain. These extra boards combined with the forced TOs helped Greece take 23 more field goal attempts than Spain. And underrated factor was Spain's free throw shooting--27/28 overall. Even though Greece hit some 3pts late to chip into the lead, Spain always kept them at bay by hitting their FTs down the stretch.

- A few old-fashioned dust-ups added to the already raucous atmosphere. The normally reserved Diamantidis got in Navarro's face after blocking his shot right before the half. Then the two got into some sort of simulated hip check thingie & both benches spilled onto the court. The heighten emotions spilled over into the 4th quarter when Tsartsaris ran into Calderon, necessitating an intentional foul, which led to more flare-ups. Though, watching the replay it looked like Calderon has been well-versed in the Euro art of selling the slightest bit of contact. And the refs...well they were FIBA refs, so you just gotta deal with it. They seemed overwhelmed by the environment, and got caught up in the emotions of the arena in the 4th quarter.

- Spain is now one step away from their main mission--winning a Euro Championship at home. Russia has played above their heads and their underdog run is a great story. But I just can't see any way Russia can knock off Spain at home. Spain already had their big scare vs. Greece, and I don't feel confident Russia can piece together back2back strong offensive outings, especially vs. Spain's zone looks.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lithuania Holds Off Croatia

Euro '07 Quarterfinals: Lithuania 74, Croatia 72

- With Lithuania in the midst of their poorest offensive outing, and in danger of being bounced from medal contention, they received a big lift from their two NBA forwards. Both Darius Songaila & Linas Kleiza provided Lithuania with inside/outside production, and were especially helpful down the stretch. Lithuania also reaped the benefits of Croatia's poor free throw shooting, including 2 crucial misses by ex-Net Zoran Planinic that would have tied the game with :02 secs.

Here's how the final half-minute unfolded:

- With Lith up 74-70 with :27 on the clock, Planinic was in the process of driving past Songaila, so Darius reached out to foul Zoran but he was a little to forceful, and an intentional foul was called. Zoran hit his two free throws to make it 74-72, Croatia retained possession, they missed a 3pt. attempt, but Lith knocked the attempted rebound out of bounds. Croatia gets the ball out under basket with :02. Lob pass to Zoran in the paint, he was fouled on the pass by Kaukenas (by the way, it was NOT on purpose). Zoran goes to the line and misses both free throws, game over.

- Kleiza has been not afraid to bang bodies in the paint area this entire tourney, and today was no different. Linas bogarted his way to 5 off rebs (9 total) and his aggressive play helped him draw fouls (7/7 fts). But he also added some goods from the perimeter as well. Kleiza first made his presence known in the 2nd quarter with 8 pts. Then he re-emerged in the 4th by knocking down multiple jumpers, and finished with 19 pts (2 3pts).

- Songaila did his work in a very similar fashion, going inside & out. We have been use to Darius doing unsung work down low thru-out Euro '07, but today he did as much damage with his face-up game, especially drilling some key jumpers in the 4th. Darius ended with 20 on 8/13 & 7 rebs (3 off), and probably has been Lithuania's second best player in Euro '07 besides Saras.

- Zoran Planinic did a great job getting into the teeth of the Lithuanian defense all game, and either dropping sweet dimes or finishing at the glass. He did a good job finishing in transition, which were usually the result of him forcing 7 steals. Zoran led Croatia with 16 pts, 5 assts, 7 stls & 3 rebs. But Zoran sort of neutralized his good play in other areas by going 3/8 from the free throw line, including the 2 big misses late. Zoran has struggled on the ft stripe in the tourney--he now shooting 10/21 on fts.

- Part of Lithuania's struggles can be traced to their uncharacteristic 6/21 3pt. shooting, which helped lead to a 39.6% day from the floor overall. But Lith's off-shooting night was tempered by the fact that Croatia shot only 10/29 from the 3pt. line & 41% overall. And maybe most importantly, the free shooting disparity really saved Lithuania's hide. Lith was 22/26, while Croatia crumbled at the charity stripe--8/19.

- Saras did not seem to be playing with quite the same verve he had earlier in the tourney, but he still managed to drop some of his trademark precision passes (8 assts), though had issues with TOs again with 5. Croatia did a good job of doubling Saras off of pick/rolls often, forcing the ball out of his hands. It looks obvious he's laboring, and not having a day off before the Semis, can't be good news for Lithuania.

- Lithuania now will face Russia in a showdown for Soviet bloc bragging rights. In general, Lith is clearly the superior offensive unit, but with Saras less than 100% and Russia showing competent play on offense vs. France, this game should be up for grabs. If Saras was healty I would have no trouble picking Lith, but he's gimpy so my choice is tougher. But still think Lith has enough firepower to overcome Saras' injury, but I expect a tough battle.

Greece - Slovenia Analysis

• Also: Watch the last minute of Greece's miracle comeback

Quarterfinal: Greece 63, Slovenia 62

- Pretty uneventful 1st half that was tightly played, but Slovenia gained a little momentum by going on a 9-0 run in the last 3 mins to go into halftime up 34-28. They fed off this momentum by starting the 2nd half on a 7-0 run to take a 13-point lead. Greece could get absolutely nothing working on the offensive end, looking badly out of sync. Slovenia was up 11 points at the end of the 3rd, then they extended the lead to 15 with about 6 mins left in the game. For the next 3 mins or so, Greece got it down to 8-9 points and had chances to cut into the lead further, but blew good opportunities.

- I knew about Greece's penchant for comebacks & knew you should never count out this squad, but really thought the game was officially over when Jaka Lakovic drilled a 3pt to put Slovenia up 61-49 with 2:40 left. I thought this was definitely the nail in the coffin, because Greece had a few instances earlier in the 4th where they could have cut the lead to 5-6 pts but they could never take advantage. They had some great opportunities but either made some untimely turnovers or had easy shots rim out.

- Slovenia was in total control for the most of the 2nd half, but after they took that 61-49 lead, Greece really turned up the defensive pressure, which helped lead to 4 Slovenian TOs in the last 2:20; Slovenia had 7 TOs in the last 6 mins of the 4th.

- I distinctly remember glancing at the clock on the screen -- "1:07 Greece 62-55" -- and immediately thought back to the France game in '05 when Greece came back from 7 with about a minute left. But I quickly shook off the idea of another Greece comeback because they had already had multiple chances earlier in the quarter & they couldn't take advantage.

- Theo Papaloukas had been having a subpar Euro '07, but managed to come through when his country needed him, scoring 7 of Greece's last 10 points in the final 1:32. Theo hit a wild scissor-kick 3pt. with :49 secs left to cut the lead to 4 points. Then picked off a pass in the interior on the next defensive sequence, and Nikos Zisis drilled a long 3pt at the :33 sec mark to cut the Slovenian lead to 62-61. After a rushed shot in Slovenia's ensuing possession, Greece got the ball back with :14 secs left, down 1 point. And Papaloukas was not gonna settle, so he just drove strong into the lane & threw up a lay-in off the glass over the outstretched arms of Rasho that bounced around the rim and went down.

- Zisis had hesitated to take a wide-open look with 3:30 left which eventually led to a Greece turnover, and Lakovic soon hit the 3pter that extended the lead to 12. But Zisis did not hesitate with 30 secs, when he stepped up and drilled his huge 3pter. Zisis is their best pure shooter, and he has been nearly non-existent the whole tourney, but he came up big late, with all his 7 pts in the last 5 mins of the 4th.

- A big reason Greece was struggling all game was that their outside shooting was way off the mark--5/17 from 3pt for the game. What really made the comeback so improbable was how desultory the Greek offense was most of the game. Greece outscored Slovenia 23-11 in the 4th--and scored 14 in the last 2:30--after not managing to score more than 14 points in any of the first 3 quarters.

- Slovenia did not help themselves with another poor outside shooting night--6/22 from long distance. The normally solid-shooting Jaka Lakovic has been erratic thru-out the tourney, and today had 14 pts but shot 3/10 on 3pts, with some ill-advised attempts thrown up.

- Rasho was a major interior presence on both ends of the floor once again. Turned away countless Greece forays in the lane, forcing Greece to kick out or reset the offense on the perimeter. Rasho also was a factor on offense, finishing in the painted area all game & throwing up a few of his trusty hook shots for 16 pts on 8/13, not to mention 11 rebs (5 off) & 5 blks. Rasho has been having an underrated Euro '07, and has been one of the better players in this tourney, especially on the defensive end.

- When Greece wants flip the switch on their defensive pressure, they can overwhelm nearly every opponent. They did this a lot last year, particularly vs. Australia in the '06 Worlds group play. That team was a machine causing turnovers last year--even better than Team USA--with such active hands causing deflections all game. But this year, Greece has not been able to force TOs to the degree they have in the past, and I think it is an underrated reason for their somewhat ragged play, besides the obvious anemic offense.

- Don't usually like the sentiment of feeling bad for a losing team in sports, but in this instance I have to admit I was feeling some of Slovenia's pain. They had been playing solid basketball, strong effort defensively every, and somewhat overachieving their way to a 5-1 record. And in this quarterfinal match, Slovenia's play was no different for 37 mins out of 40, then the bottom fell out. All the hard work and positive vibes established in the previous games evaporated in the span of 3 mins; this disastrous loss will be the only thing people will remember when they think about the '07 Slovenia team. I guess it's not totally negative for Slovenia, they still have a shot at a pre-Olympic berth in the loser bracket.

Greece: The Gods of Comebacks

Greece pulled off a miracle comeback to knock off Slovenia 63-62 in the quarterfinals of Eurobasket on Friday (Read Jay Aych's game analysis). After managing just 49 points in the game's first 37 1/2 minutes, Greece put together a 14-1 run in the last 2 1/2 minutes to win it.

The Greeks trailed by 12 with 2:40 to play and then by 7 points with a minute left. Theo Papaloukas was huge as usual in the clutch, with a wild 3pter, a steal, and then a driving game-winning bucket with about 6.7 seconds left. What a winner that guy is.

Here's the final minute, with the crazed broadcast call almost as entertaining as the comeback itself (and what's up with Slovenia jacking up a jumper with a 1-point lead and :10 on the shot clock with :15 left overall?):

As Jay Aych pointed out to me, this Greek comeback was eerily similar to their rally in the Eurobasket 2005 semis, when they trailed France by 7 with :40 left (Game story). Here are the video highlights of that one (the clip gets to the final minute of the game at about the 2:00 mark):

If that's not enough, watch this one - Greece came back from down 5 with a minute left vs. Australia in the 2006 Worlds, with Papaloukas contributing a beautiful poke steal and then Nikos Zisis nailing the buzzer-beater:

And remember that Greece also came back from a 13-point second-half deficit vs. Croatia earlier in this tournament, winning on this buzzer-beating three by V. Spanoulis:

All in all, Greece is 6-0 in games decided by 3 pts. or less and/or OT in the 2005 Eurobasket, the 2006 Worlds, and the 2007 Eurobasket.

And one thing I noticed is that a different guy hit the game-winning shot each time in the four clips above: in order, it was Papaloukas, Diamantidis, Zisis and Spanoulis.

Great stuff. Too bad it's not on U.S. TV. Looks like it's only for the medal round - it's Spain v Greece and Lithuania v Russia in the semis on Saturday.

Spain has to be a big favorite as a) they've handled Greece easily in recent meetings, b) are at home, and c) had a day of rest while Greece fought for its life today.

That should set up an all-important bronze medal game between Greece and the loser of Lithuania-Russia, with a bid to Beijing on the line.

The Lithuania-Russia game looks like a tossup. All things being equal, Lithuania would probably be a slight favorite, but they had to work for a 74-72 win over Croatia today while Russia had a rest day, and Lith. leader Saras Jasikevicious looks less than 100% with his leg injury.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

France's Late-Game Miscues Cost Them

• Also: Watch the last-minute of Greece's miracle comeback

Euro '07 Quarterfinals: Russia 75, France 71

- At the start of the summer, Tony Parker took his game to new heights with clutch play throughout the NBA playoffs, but he ended his whirlwind summer on a sour note: Parker had a free throw to tie the game at 71 with 7 seconds left, but missed, ending France's shot at a medal & an automatic Olympic berth. Don't forget, this was the 2nd time in the tourney that Parker missed a free throw to tie a game in the last seconds--he missed the 2nd of two free throws vs. Slovenia, which allowed Slovenia to escape with a 1-point win. But Parker wasn't the only Frenchman to falter down the stretch: the other French NBA standout, Boris Diaw, missed 2 free throws to tie the game with 15 seconds left.

- Both teams actually shot the ball surprisingly well. Thought this would be a defensive struggle, but what this game came down to was which team could make fewer mistakes--Russia barely prevailed on this front. After a very disjointed 3rd quarter where both teams committed plenty of mindless turnovers (13 combined) and only scored 14 points each, things started to heat up a little more in the 4th with better back-n-forth action.

- Here's a quick recap of the helter-skelter last half-minute:

Russia's JR Holden (who was huge in the 4th) hit 2 free throws with :24 secs left to put Russia up 71-69.

• Then Russia decided to foul Diaw with :15 secs left. Diaw went to the line and promptly missed both free throws.

• Russia rebounded the miss with :10 secs left & Russia's Pashutin was fouled. Pashutin is a good shooter, but clanked both free throws.
• France got the rebound, Parker pushed the ball up court & he was fouled on purpose with :07 secs left. Parker made the first, then missed the second.

• Russia rebounded, was fouled, & then hit both free throws to go up 73-70.

• Then they fouled Parker again with :02 to avoid the 3pt. Parker made the first to make the score 73-71, then purposely tried to miss the second, but missed the rim, so game over. Russia wins.

- I guess the interesting development, besides the 3 missed free throws by France's NBA stars, is the European tactic of fouling with a 2-point lead paid off, at least today. It took two tries, but still worked. Have seen this tactic done multiple times this tourney with varying degrees of success. It worked wonders for Greece against Croatia, but Greece did need a 30-foot buzzer-beater to justify the foul. But it backfired for Turkey against Italy.

- France has to believe they let a golden opportunity slip away. Here was a game in which they had one of their finer offensive days, shooting the perimeter shot fairly well for most of the game (at least by their low standards). They also commanded the boards, but they really wiped away all that goodwill by doing a terrible job taking care of the ball in the 2nd half and killing themselves on the free throw line. France turned the ball over 11 times in the 2nd half (20 overall) & shot 9/20 from the ft stripe overall. Also as usual, France could not sustain any consistency on their outside shooting--after shooting 6/12 from 3pt in the 1st half, they shot just 2/10 in the 2nd half.

-Former Bucknell star JR Holden was huge carrying the Russian offense down the stretch, scoring 10 pts in the 4th. JR, who's more of a mid-range shooter, drilled 2 big 3pts in the 4th, including one to put Russia up 67-64 with 3 mins remaining. But he also did damage with his dribble-drives in the 4th--he took it upon himself to drive to the bucket & draw a foul with the game tied at 69 at :24 secs left. He then proceeded to bury two crucial free throws to put Russia up 71-69. Holden finished 3/6 from 3pt for 15 pts.

- Though Kirilenko had a rough time finding his scoring touch (2/11), he was a monster everywhere else. He was an absolute beast on the defensive side of the ball--the dude had 7 steals & 4 blks. Coach Blatt had him in the free safety role where he was sagged way off his man (usually F. Pietrus) and allowed to wreak havoc a la Pippen in a roving capacity.

- Viktor Khyrapa had another terrific outing all-around, was particularly lethal shooting the long-ball--4/4 from 3pt, 14 pts, 7 rebs, 6 assts. Khyrapa was shooting just 32% from 3pt coming into the quarters. Back-up center Nikita Morgunov had another solid effort, did a tremendous job slipping to open spaces in the interior & added a few little runners in the lane for 14 in 7/9.

- Russia had one of its best offensive days of the tourney--55.7% overall, 8/16 from 3pt--but what was hurting them (just like France) was their turnovers (17 total) & free throw shooting (9/17). Russia was also held back by getting blasted on the boards--outrebounded 37-25 overall--and allowed 14 French off. rebs (Russia had a 60% def. rebound pct., not good)

- For the most part, Tony Parker was bottled up by the Russian defense. He rarely got any of his patented deep forays into the lane (I counted only 2-3), and he only attempted 9 shots total. You really can't fault Parker for his decreased scoring production over the last few games because he just does not have the surrounding talent around him to relieve pressure.

- Boris Diaw's sudden offensive emergence over the last few games came a little too late. Boris did a great job driving the ball all game, but his outside shot was still off, and his shooting from the free throw line was mighty costly--0/3 on fts. Diaw led France with 17 on 8/14, 6 rebs (4 off) & 5 TOs. Tender Rony Turiaf added a nice lift, particularly on the defensive end, & pitched in 8, 7 rebs & 3 blks.

- Russia goes on to face the winner of Lithuania-Croatia on Satuday, while France's tourney is not quite complete. France still has to head to the loser bracket for classification games to figure out 5th-8th place & a possible pre-Olympic qualifying tournament spot.

Eurobasket '07 Playoff Picture

Quarterfinal action starts today with Russia-France at 1pm EST, then Germany takes on the homeboys, Spain, at 3:30. The quarters continue on Friday with Greece vs. Slovenia, & Croatia vs. Lithuania. The Spain-Germ. winner will face the winner of Slovenia-Greece in one Semifinal while the Russ-France winner faces the winner of Lith-Croatia in the other Semi.

Not really going out on a limb here, but the Euro '07 is shaping up to be a repeat of 2003, where Lithuania met Spain in the final in Sweden (LTU won that one, but Spain would be the favorites here). Both squads are easily the two most potent offensive units in Euro '07, and both teams' defense have been solid enough so far, making Spain & Lithuania also the most-balanced clubs in Madrid. We'll see if any other team can trip up either of two favorites before they can meet in the finals.

As a reminder, Spain has already qualified for Beijing thanks to its 2006 World Championship. Two other Olympic spots are up for grabs here, so the 3rd place game will likely be a huge one (assuming Spain makes the final).

Beyond that, the next four Euro teams will get spots in the World Qualifying Tournament next July (12 teams competing for the last 3 spots), so the 7th place game will actually likely be a big one, too, as it will be an elimination game for the qualifying tournament (and I wouldn't be surprised if Euro teams sweep the last three spots there).

Below is a quick-hitting look at the playoff round of Eurobasket:

SPAIN vs. GERMANY: Rematch of Euro '05 Semifinal where Germany prevailed on a last-second jumper by Dirk. One key difference between '05 & this year: Spain was without the services of Gasol in '05.

Spain just has too much firepower across the board for Germany to counter. The only chance for Germany is if they can get strong production from all their role players like Herber, Jagla, Hamann, & Demond Greene. Basically, Germany is going to need a perfect storm of career nights from their entire rotation to pull the upset. Though, I could see the Germans make the game competitive for awhile. Germany should just concern themselves with winning one game in the loser bracket portion--one win secures them a spot in the pre-Olympic qualifier.

RUSSIA vs. FRANCE: If you want defense, you got it. Battle of two teams who rely heavily on their defense for their success. Neither team is blessed with much natural offensive talent, and have to find creative ways to cover up for their flaws.

I'm going with Russia in this one just because I think their offense has shown more stretches of continuity in Euro '07. Though, this game could just come down to which one of these poor shooting teams gets luckier from the outside. I imagine Russia is gonna load their defense up to surround Parker with multiple guys wherever he goes, specifically not letting him ride roughshod thru the lane for lay-ins. They will most likely leave the other Frenchies wide open, daring them to shoot, which is always a wise plan of attack vs. France. France might have to consider using Cedric Ferchaud more since he's France's best pure shooter, and someone who can hopefully open up some alleys for Parker to operate.

Would be kinda nice if France could get Boris Diaw to show up. I guess his strong play in the Turkey game was an encouraging sign, but then again the game was pretty meaningless for both teams, so can't get too excited about Diaw.

GREECE vs. SLOVENIA: Wavering back-n-forth on picking the winner of this game. Greece has steadily improved their play on the offensive end the last two games, and looked like they have regained some of the mojo of last year's squad.

Have not been blown away with Slovenia's play, but they have been solid, and just have found ways to win. The offense has not been overwhelming overall, but Matjaz Smodis has been consistently impressive & Rasho has been an underrated presence in the interior on both ends of the floor. Slovenia has also gotten nice contributions from Goran Dragic (particularly defensively) and the Lorbek brothers.

To me, Slovenia has to consider sagging on defense to make Greece prove they can hit from outside. Greece has struggled with tightly packed defenses in the tourney & have not consistently shot the ball well. Packing in the defense also should be able to cut down on Theo Papaloukas' creativity, and he has struggled all tournament trying to get his game on track. Dimis Diamantidis has to be the go-to-guy for Greece from here on out, and he has to be more aggressive looking for his shot.

If Greece can just shoot from the perimeter half-way decent, which I think they can, they should be in good shape, because they bring great defensive effort every night. But two underrated factors to watch for, and two things that could hurt Greece, are free-throw shooting & rebounding. Greece has been subpar in both areas the last few years, and the same is true this summer. But I'll give the nod to Greece in this one.

CROATIA vs. LITHUANIA: Would not be surprised if Croatia was able to make this a tight game, they have the capablility of getting red-hot from the perimeter (guys like Kus, Popovic, Tomas, & Planinic), and have already shown they can knock off an elite team (Spain) in this tourney. Croatia does have a lot of raw talent with a nice combo of shooters & solid athletes, but they can't seem to piece their talent together into a cohesive unit so far. Also, Saras re-aggravating his hamstring/groin is something of some concern for Team Lithuania. But ultimately, Lithuania is firing on all cylinders right now, and can't see how they are going to get tripped up before the finals. Their offense has been awesome, rebounding has been tight, and best of all, their sometimes spotty defense has been fairly durable.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Germany Keeps Olympic Hopes Alive

Germany 67, Italy 58

- Germany has been strictly a two-man attack of Dirk & Okulaja for most of the tourney with very little input from the role players. But facing elimination today, Germany got a big lift from its supporting cast in the 2nd half, and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time, considering Dirk was in the midst of his poorest day of the tourney. Recent West Virginia standout Johannes Herber was huge during a crucial 3rd quarter run--drilling 2 3pts & a jumper, and also blew by a gimpy Belinelli for a sweet lay-in. Herber also buried a big 3 pt with 2:00 mins left to give Germany a 57-52 lead, and helped punch his team's ticket for the playoff round.

- The aforementioned Herber led Germany with 15 pts & 6 rebs (4 off) on 6/10, 3/3 from 3pt. Dirk had a rough go shooting the ball--5/19--and he was only 2/9 from 3pt, but those two 3pts came at crucial times in the 4th quarter. Jan Jagla, whose provided great energy off the bench the entire tourney, particularly on the boards, crushed the glass once again with 10 rebs & 5 off rebs. Jagla is averaging 5.5 rpg (2.2 off) in only 14 mins per. PG Steffen Hamann helped down the stretch with a couple of hard drives for key buckets, finishing with 10 points of his own.

- Normally, Italy is known for their fluid Euro-style offense with nice ball-movement, cutting, & sharpshooting, almost a poor man's Lithuania. But really never saw too much evidence of this type of play this summer, and Italy's offense never quite clicked this entire tourney. Not sure really the reason why, but I believe the main reason was shoddy shot selection. We have touched on Bargnani & Belinelli's sometimes no-conscience approach this tourney, but some of Italia's vets were also showing little discretion out on the floor, especially Gianluca Basile. The usual solid outside shooting was not there this year--30.3% from 3pt--which is detrimental to a team that relies so heavily on the outside shot. Though, Italy was able to be competitive in every game it played, some of that can be attributed to their methodical style & low-turnover rate.

- Rebounding was something we knew would be a weakness for Italia going into the Euro '07, and has been thru-out the tourney. And in this game, the board battle bit them in the ass again & cost them big time--Germany outrebounded Italy 52-31. Gave up 21 off rebs to Germany while only pulling down 2 more def rebs (23)--a defensive reb. pct. close to 50% is not advisable.

- Andrea Bargnani's shot selection was again questionable, leading to a 3/12 shooting day. Like he has all tourney, he just seems to have his mind made up before he receives the pass that he's launching a shot no matter the defensive coverage.

- Marco Belinelli was the one consistent source of offense for Italy today with 25 pts on 6/11 (3/7 3pts). Marco came out sharp early in the contest, single-handedly keeping Italy in the 1st half. What you like about Marco's play the last few games is he has shown more ability to restrain his circus-shot tendencies.

- Germany now has the honor of facing Spain in the quarters. Not the greatest reward for this hard-fought win, but even though a triumph over Spain is unlikely, Germany is now in the mix to finish in the top 7, which would qualify them for the Olympic qualifying tourney next summer, where they'd have a solid chance to grab one of the last spots for Beijing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Lithuania Stays Undefeated

Lithuania 88, France 73 (Monday 9/10)

- Lithuania just had too much offensive firepower that France can't match. Much like Russia's offense could not keep up with Spain's firepower, France's anemic offense is less potent than Russia's, so they had little chance matching Lithuania's output. France made a mini-rally early in the 3rd when they went on an unlikely 3pt barrage (4/5 in the 1st 5 minutes), but eventually returned to their normal poor shooting ways later in the quarter, and the offense predictably fell apart.

- Saras Jasikevicius was masterful running the show, and no one in this tourney controls the flow of the game better than Saras. No way he had only 7 assts, had to have at least 10, and is probably the case since they're notoriously stingy in handing out dimes in the int'l game. Uses the high pick & roll as well as any PG in basketball, worked well with R. Javtokas in the 2nd quarter, leading to multiple dunks for Javtokas. Was zipping pinpoint passes thru the France defense, including a bullet to Simas Jasaitis cutting on the baseline. I believe all of Simas Jasaitis' 13 pts came off of Saras' playmaking & passes. Saras also hit three 3pters. for 14 pts.

- I know we just covered this, but, please, someone in GS get this guy to a place where he can contribute. And GMs like Danny Ainge & Danny Ferry should be doing everything they can to acquire Saras. I know he's a defensive liability & not saying he should be a starter, but he's more than capable of being a solid back-up PG in the NBA or situations where he can split minutes (Cle., Bos. Mia.). He would work great in the Utah system as well, and they could use back-up PG help as well. Let him run pick/rolls & accord him the freedom like Nash to make decisions at his will when on the floor.

- Like in the Slovenia game, Parker found his operating area cramped by extra defenders shadowing him. Lithuania did not let him turn the corner into the lane, had 2-3 defenders waiting for him. Rimas Kaukenas did a solid job as the primary defender on Tony, though his job was made easier with plenty of help behind him. Can't remember too many patented Parker finishes & Tony only attempted 9 shots for a 11 pt, 6 asst day. I'm sure Tony is pining for the services of Manu, Finley, Horry, & Bowen spacing the floor for him, or maybe just wishing France would hire Chip Engelland to fix their collection of nasty shooters.

- Lithuania played a fair amount of man2man but they were sagged-in, encouraging perimeter shots, and France took the bait--France took 36 3pt attempts, way more than this team wants to take. Lithuania played a some zone in the 2nd half, but it actually seemed like their zone was more stretched out than their man.

- Have to give some credit to Lithuania for their solid defensive performance thru-out Euro '07. You know the offense will always be potent for Lith, but the play on the defensive end has always been somewhat spotty thru the years. The defense looks durable enough to make Lithuania the no. 1 contender to Team Espana.

- Ramunas Siskauskas did the two things he's known for: drill jumpers & bull his way to the hoop--he led Lith with 19 pts (7/8 fts) & 5 rebs. Darius Songaila continued his steady workmanlike effort with 17 pts & 7 rebs on 7/11. Songaila just quietly goes about his business, you barely recognize his impact, and sometimes are surprised how productive he is when looking at the stats.

- Florent Pietrus continued to be France's 2nd best player with strong play at both ends--13 pts & 2 blks. What 'bout Boris Diaw? Really not much to say. Another virtual no-show on offense from Boris (1/8 shooting), though he did continue to bring some rebounding to the table. Diaw is only averaging 7.6 ppg, and shooting just 36% from the floor.

- Lithuania now has a showdown with undefeated Slovenia to see who gets the #1-seed in Group F. I have to go with Lith in this one--they have been more impressive overall, especially on the offensive end. We'll see if Slovenia's premier perimeter defender, Goran Dragic, can contain Saras like he did with Parker.


Tuesday Notes
Not a lot to say about Tuesday's action, as Group E was pretty well set and there were no surprises, although Israel played Spain tough until the home squad took control in the 4th. Greece handled Portugal and Russia topped Croatia, so here are the final standings for that group:

1. Spain 4-1
2. Russia 4-1
3. Greece 3-2
4. Croatia 2-3
5. Portugal 1-4
6. Israel 1-4

Portugal and Israel are eliminated and the top 4 will move on to the quarterfinals.

Group F action is highlighted by a huge matchup between Italy and Germany, which will decide which team moves on. Lithuania, Slovenia and France are already in.

Italy Keeps Playoff Hopes Alive With OT Win

Italy 84, Turkey 75 (OT)

- In a game that both teams desperately needed to win, Italy's youth brigade provided the late-game push over the brink to get past Turkey. Marco Belinelli, Angelo Gigli, & Andrea Bargnani all came up big in the 4th quarter & OT to allow Italy to hold off the one-man wrecking crew of Turkey that was otherwise known as Hedo Turkoglu (34 pts). Belinelli stepped up huge, scoring all of his 17 pts after the 4:00 mark of the 3rd, including a spectacular soaring flush over Hedo & Memo to tie the game with a minute left in regulation:

- Marco did damage mostly by shunning his jumper, and attacking the lane off the dribble. There are few in Europe who can keep Marco out of the lane when he chooses to use his superb physical gifts. Had 4-5 beautiful drives in the 2nd half (just like the previous game), including one where he snaked along the baseline for a lay-in. Coach Recalcati had Belinelli running the point down the stretch and basically let him go one-on-one up high. Marco really did not force too much and dished when his lanes were cut off. But he wasn't totally without fault, he jacked up a few bad shots per usual (including an ill-advised bomb in OT) and threw a careless pass late in OT that almost cost them dearly--Marco ended with 17 pts & 4 assts. Bargnani mixed up his offense better today by looking to work inside the arc more often instead of just launching jumpers. Andrea finished with 12 & 6, including a big 3pt. make in OT.

- For the second day in a row, we saw a team foul with a 2-point lead so they could have the last offensive possession (a seemingly bizarre but oft-used tactic in Europe). Turkey had Engin Atsur (NC State) foul Massimo Bulleri, which allowed Bulleri to tie the game at the foul line. Then Turkey got the last possession with 10 secs left, Hedo drew defenders off the dribble & made the right decision to dish off to a wide-open Ibo Kutluay in the corner for the win, but Ibo was just off the mark. You really can't ask for a better chance to win than a wide-open Kutluay, one of the deadliest shooters in Europe.

- This game effectively eliminated Turkey from the playoff round & snuffed out any chance of qualifying for Beijing. After some inspiring play last year, Turkey reverted back to its underachieving ways this year. Turkey is currently dead last out of 16 teams in FG% at 35.8%. They are 6% points lower than the next lowest 2nd round participant, Portugal. Also, dead last in FT% (57%), something that bit them in the ass today. 29% from the 3pt. line sure doesn't help Turkey's case either. Some might blame the presence of Memo & Hedo has ruined their chemistry, something that has been alluded to in the past. I can't really say if that was the case this year, but something was not quite right. If anything, you could put some of the blame on never really solving their PG situation, something we pointed to in our preview that could be an issue for Turkey.

- Have liked Angelo Gigli's activity on both the glass & the defensive end this whole tourney. But he's had a rough time trying to stay out of foul trouble so far. Fouls were not an issue today, and Gigli brought his usual strong defense & rebounding effort, but he added a little offense as well--hit a couple of 3pts, finished in the painted area with authority, & had a couple of nice post moves to boot (nice up & under in OT). 17 pts, 10 rebs (4 off), 3 blks & 2/5 from 3pt. land. Gigli is currently in the Top 10 in off. rebs, steals, & blocks for the tourney.

- Turkey really did not turn the ball over that much (14 TOs), it's just Italy only turned the ball over 3 times. This allowed Italy to shoot just 40.6% but still challenge because they got 12 more shot attempts. Turkey shooting 16/29 on FTs to Italy's 20/24 did not help the Turks cause either.

- Turkey started off the game red-hot, finishing the 1st quarter with 29 on 9/14 shooting. But production slowed down in the 2nd quarter, and Turkey ended up shooting 15/43 thru the next 3 quarters. And it was mosly just Hedo on offense in those quarters.

- Hedo Turkoglu had one of best individual performances of Euro '07 with 34 pts, 6 rebs, 4 assts on 10/16 (5/8 3pt). Hedo was a force, creating shots for himself or for his teammates off the bounce--most of his 3pts came off the dribble, a few step-backs thrown in. Problem was that no one else from Turkey joined the Hedo show, pretty much making it a one-man affair. Memo Okur was really the only other Turk of note, pitching in 10 & 9, but was 3/11 overall & he seemed to have carried over his poor shooting ways from the NBA playoffs to Euro '07--Memo is shooting just 18/56 for the tourney.

- Team Italia's victory sets up what amounts to a play-in game with Germany for the final playoff spot in Group F.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Spain's Talent Wears Down Russia

Spain 81, Russia 69

- Spain just had too much firepower for Russia to overcome. Too many options on offense, and too much overall balance for the defensive-centric Russians to match. Spain shot 50% overall & drilled 12 3pts out of 33 attempts, and did damage in the half-court & in transition. Russia just does not have the offensive talent to keep up with Spain, a team that can bring it at both ends of the floor. Right now the Euro '07 finals are looks like a collision course between the two most balanced teams, Lithuania & Spain.

- Jose Calderon was bubbling hot today with a huge game of 17 pts & 4 assts on 7/11 (3/6 3pts). The sometime spotty shooter had the jumper working either from long-range or drilling pull-ups--Jose scored Spain's first 7 pts in the 3rd off two pull-ups & a 3pt. Jose also did a nice job pushing the ball in transition today, taking the Spanish offense to another level.

- Juan Navarro shook off some of the rust in his second game back by looking like the "La Bomba" of old with three 3pts. bombs, one of patented running floaters, and a sweet little turnaround jumper for good measure. Garbajosa joined in the long-bomb festivities with three of his own for 11 pts & 2 stls.

- Pau sort of let his other capable teammates do all the heavy lifting on the offensive end & just filled in the holes around them. Even on cruise control, Pau managed 13 pts, 9 rebs 2 blks and once again was a defensive deterrent on backline of the zone. Also finished off a few alley-oops again, which seems to have become a staple of the Spanish attack. Felipe Reyes did a nice job working the low block area again for 11 on 5/7 & 3 off rebs.

- Russia actually started off the game shooting the ball surprisingly well going 5/7 from 3pt. land in the 1st quarter--Viktor Khyrapa drilled three long-balls of his own. Khyrapa & Co. kept Russia in the game while Kirilenko had to exit the game 2 mins in after picking up 2 early fouls. But Russia eventually came back down to reality and shot 4/23 for the next 3 quarters. The Spanish zone eventually stymied the Russian attack which was no surprise due to Russia's lack of natural shooters.

- Kirilenko was one of the few Russians who was a consistent threat on offense the entire game, and was able to have his jumper working today--AK47 had 21 pts on 6/8 from the floor. Back-up center Nikita Morganov gave the Russians a nice lift off the pine with a varied game on offense with 13 pts on 6/9. Khyrapa started off the game red hot drilling three 3pts in the first quarter, but sort of disappeared for the rest of the game on offense. Though, Khyrapa added another solid all-around performance with 14 pts, 11 rebs & solid defense, but did commit 5 TOs.

Spanoulis' Buzzer-Beater Buries Croatia

- Best game of the weekend. Featured some nice back-n-forth action in the 2nd half with both teams exchanging big jumpers, and ended with a buzzer-beating pull-up from 28-feet by Vasilios Spanoulis:

-But maybe more important than Spanoulis' bomb, was Dimis Diamantidis coming up huge in the 2nd half, erupting for 21 of 23 in the 2nd half hitting all of his four 3pts in the last 15 minutes of the contest. Dimis finished with 23 pts, 6 rebs, 3 assts, 2 stls & 9/10 fts; this is the type of game that confirms why were unabashed Diamantidis' fans here at the Painted Area.

- Greece might have not really needed Spanoulis' late game heroics, but Greece made the peculiar decision to foul with :10 secs left up 2 points. Though, this tactic seems to be not all that unusual in int'l ball--'06 Worlds Semis, Argentina fouled Spain late with the score tied so they could have the last offensive possession, but it backfired (Saw it happen in the Angola-Germany tilt last year as well). Croatia's Marko Popovic made both free throws to tie the game at 78, then Spanoulis came down to hit a pull-up 30-foot winner at the buzzer. Spanoulis had a solid game hitting his outside jumpers thru out--3/8 on 3pts & a few pull-up mid-rangers for 14 pts.

- Lazaos Papadopoulous was Greece's steadiest performer thru-out the game but Greece got a much needed lift in the 2nd half thanks to their two leaders, Theo Papaloukas & Dimis Diamantidis. With Greece down 11 points midway thru the 3rd, Theo & Dimis buried back2back 3 pts to ignite a Greece rally, and a 21-4 run over the last 5 mins of the 3rd. Diamantidis kept his hot hand for the rest of the game: Dimis hit a big 3 pts to put Greece back on top with 5 mins left in the 4th, then another with 1:30 remaining to put Greece up 76-71.

- Dimis does not look to shoot much, but when he does he has a knack for hitting huge shots. He's a capable shooter, it's just that he's too damn unselfish & only seems to want to shoot if the shot clock is running down & he's forced to. He has to realize this year he can't wait until his team desparately needs him, he has to be aggressive on offense all game because the Greeks are hurting for offensive firepower with Fotsis & Big Sofo absent.

- The zone cut down on Papaloukas' creative ability once again but he was able to hurt the defense with his shooting today, something he's not known for--11 pts, 2/4 3pts for Theo.

- Big man Lazaros Papadopoulus was the main source of offense for Greece in the 1st half, single-handedly kept them close with his old-school hook shots with either hand--15 pts on 7/8 for the half. He added a few more hooks in the 2nd half for 22 pts & 6 rebs on 10/13 overall. He looked liked the Lazaros of the '06 Worlds today after struggling so far in Euro '07.

- Croatia's zone was very effective in the 2nd quarter & Greece was once again having trouble finding the range from outside--1/6 for 3pt in the 1st half. But Greece finally got on track in the 2nd half & made Croatia pay for staying in the zone--8/16 from downtotwn in the 2nd half for Greece.

- Roko Ukic (Raptor draftee) did a great job using his quickness to finish off drives for 10 pts. Ukic definitely has the speed & size to play PG in the NBA, but needs to tweak his shot. Mario Kasun continued to be a presence in the middle & had himself another efficient game with 15 & 6 rebs on 4/5 (7/7 fts). Kasun has been one of the better bigs in the tourney & is only 2nd to Gasol in FG% at 60%. Ex-Net Zoran Planinic had a solid outing with 10, 4 rebs, 3 asst & some big 3pts in the 2nd half. Guard Marko Popovic also was strong for Croatia with 11, 4 rebs, 4 asst & three 3pts.

- Both teams should qualify for the quarterfinals thanks to Portugal upsetting Israel today. The only way those plans are distrubed is if somehow Portugal beats Greece, which probably won't be happenin'.