The normally strong Greek team was taken out by the athletic Nigerians, despite some killer play from Vassilis Spanoulis.
What an incredible, incredible game. I haven't seen anything this exciting since the NBA Finals. Greece looked like they were going to dominate this one, but Nigeria battled back, and both teams went mano-el-mano late in the fourth quarter, scoring in each other's faces. You truly didn't know who was going to win until the very end.
Making the game better is Nigeria's highly unusual style of play. They had 0 assists in the first half, and that number didn't go up very high in the second half. They like having their guards pull up for tough jumpers and making ridiculous forays into the lane, while the Nigerian bigs work with their back to the basket. Like Angola, Nigeria works to pressure on defense and can give up some easy threes, but during the second half, they got a good number of steals. They also rely quite a bit on rebounding and limiting their turnovers, giving them more shots and injecting life into their hamstrung offense.
Greece did dominate early on in this game, though. They did a good job of distributing the ball under a well-oiled offensive machine, getting the ball to open shooters and getting easy points down low. The only area where their offense sometimes failed was their on-and-off three point shooting. The percentage overall isn't that bad, but considering the amount of threes they took and how easy their looks were, just a few too many of those shots rang out. One can also look at their terrible free throw shooting. Vassilis Spanoulis, despite his fantastic play elsewhere, was only 6 of 12 from the line, and the entire team was 17 of 28.
The first signs of a Greek victory came in the early second, when Greece took an 8 point lead on the back of a couple of threes. Nigeria's deficit apexed in the low teens, as their shooting percentage was low and players were constantly getting into foul trouble. But they started to have success on defense, allowing them to get out on the break, where Al-Farouq Aminu was key. They also pounded it inside to Ike Diogu. In the fourth, the Nigerians finally buried a couple of threes, allowing them to overcome the deficit despite some tough Greek resistance.
Nigeria took a three point lead off of a rebound and a Ade Dagunduro jumper with 1:10 to go, but Greece battled their way back to a one point lead. The game culminated with Spanoulis defering to Konstantinos Papanikolaou for a three, giving Greece a two point lead with ten seconds to go. Dagunduro was not phased at all, outright walking it past half court and hitting a three with the defense draped all over him. Greece had over 3 seconds to win it with a three, but Nigeria tipped their first inbounds attempt, and Derrick Obasohan blocked Spanoulis' desperation three from just inside half-court.
Greece was led by Vassilis Spanoulis late in the game, and he led all Greek scorers with 25 Points. But not to be forgotten is Ioannis Borousis, who was instrumental in Greece's earlier runs. He finished with 18. Ike Diogu was the top performer overall for Nigeria, not only because of his 17 points, but because of his clutch play and 12 rebounds. Ade Dagundoro finished with 14 and a new reputation as a scorer, while Al-Farouq Aminu and Chamberlain Oguchi were also in double digits.
Nigeria advances to the Semi-Finals with the win, and will face off with Russia for the right to play in the London Olympics. If they are to advance, it will be the first time since 1988 that two African teams will be represented, and the first time in the professional Olympic era. Greece will go home, with their next opportunity coming at the 2011 Eurobasket in Spain.