Yo! I'm spending a lot of time watching the 2013 Eurobasket, so I thought I'd share some insights with you. Since there's no specific team to follow here at WTLC, I'm going to do a daily look back at what's going on. Consider it the readers digest version of the real thing, with a bit of WTLC flavor sprinkled in.
Here's the big news: We saw THREE huge upsets today. And there's no way I can place one over the other, so here we go.
I stated in my preview that Turkey was an overrated team, despite sporting three legitimate NBA players in Omer Asik, Hedo Turkoglu, and Ersan Ilyasova. And it turns out that I was right. The strangest thing about this game was that Finland performed way below their usual level. Finland averaged 72.5 points on 62 attempts in the 2011 Eurobasket with the same roster. In this game, they achieved 61 points on 61 attempts, with more trips to the free throw line than their average.
The long and short of it was that Turkey simply didn't know how to produce offensively. They had two of the best pick and roll centers in Europe in Omer Asik and Semih Erden. But against an undersized Finnish team, the duo combined for a mere 5 shot attempts. Three years ago, when they were both arguably more inexperienced, they combined for 12 shot attempts a game. Why were they shut down? The answer is that Turkey has no distributor. Serat Setin, the starting PG, is primarily a shooter. Ender Arslan drives the lane a lot, but he's never averaged more than three assists a game with the national team. And their third distributing option, the dexterous small forward known as Emir Preldzic, is too slow to be effective, especially against Finland.
So, what did Turkey's offense boil down to? A lot of isolations for Hedo Turkoglu, Ersan Ilyasova, and the aforementioned Preldzic. And they all performed miserably. The worst part about it was that Turkey's final play, which would have won them the game, was drawn up as a Hedo Turkoglu iso. This is after a 2/11 shooting performance in which his only hit shots were a wide open three and a easy layup. Honestly, the coach deserves to lose if that's what he had in mind. The bottom line here is that they have no offensive system in place, and rely on their talent to carry them through. And if the trend continues, their best player will continue to be the offensive rebounding machine, Kerem Gonlum.
Finland, on the other hand, did what they usually do. Petteri Koponen started off the game performing atrociously from the field, relying upon his teammates to do the dirty work. But once he heated up from long range, he almost put the game out of reach prematurely. Their only real problem was overcoming Turkey's excellent defense down low. They can usually rely on Gerald Lee Jr. and Hanno Mottola to produce with their back to the basket on a few plays, but they had to ride it out from beyond the arc without them.
I didn't get to catch all of this one, but I saw a good amount of the game. And to me it was pretty apparent that France was using their fourth and fifth string centers. There was just no cohesive defense down there whatsoever, along with way too much pressure on the perimeter. Small Germans like Robin Benzing and Niels Giffey were able to score with their back to the basket, while dudes like Tibor Pleiss killed it on the pick and roll.
All of the credit has to go to Heiko Schaffartzik, though. He was able to rack up an unprecedented 11 assists while leading him team to victory, along with hitting a couple of really deep threes. Meanwhile, on the other end, Tony Parker couldn't distribute very well, only racking up 4 assists.
France was able to execute a comeback in the third while Schaffartzik sat and Germany was gambling on jumpers. But Germany was eventually able to seal it in the fourth by getting to the line against a jumpy French defense while they nailed a few key threes. France had no reliable three point option all night, and they clanked three potential game winning shots down the stretch.
All in all, I think France still has the tools to contend. They just have to decide whether they'd like to become the high-pressure run and gun team of the past, or shore up their weakness down low with a zone. Meanwhile, I don't know what to make of the Dirkless Germany. If Schaffartzik can lead his team at this level then I'd say they have a outside shot at the tournament, but he's just not that consistent with his shot, and I don't think they'll be able to rely on such easy open threes.
Lithuania was thought to be good enough to contend for the championship this year, but after Day 1 it looks like this could be their weakest team in years. With the retirements of guards Sarunas Jasikevicus and Rimantas Kaukenas, the team got a lot bigger on the whole. Mantas Kalnietis, a career shooting guard, would be relied upon as point, while Tomas Delininkaitis, someone who barely made the team, would provide spot minutes behind him. The experiment failed, as Kalnietis turned it over as much as he assisted, while Delininkaitis provided nothing but two turnovers in his seven minutes.
Also, for a team that's so big, they hung around the perimeter a lot. 38.5% of their attempts were threes, and they just couldn't hit with any regularity. At times it looked like they were so afraid of Serbia's speed that they would just take any reasonable opportunity given to them.
They couldn't seem to get their rotations straight, either. After getting backed down by Nenad Krstic, Robertas Javtokas was put in the doghouse, replaced by Valanciunas, the Lavrinovic twins, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas. All but Darjus Lavrinovic had bad nights, and none of them were able to create their own baskets offensively.
On Serbia's end, they had two factors going for them. The first was Nemanja Nedovic, who's amazing footspeed allowed him to run circles around the Lithuanian team. You'll see him three times in the above highlight reel, and with good reason. He just seemed to always be in the right place at the right time. The other factor they had going for them was Nenad Krstic. I was pretty shocked at what he was able to do. I remember him mostly for being a pick and pop guy in OKC, but here, he was able to back down some of the best defensive centers in Europe and nail some difficult buckets. Whenever the going got tough, Serbia was able to rely upon one of these two guys to pull it through for them.
The bottom line here is that this wasn't just a win. It was practically a blowout. Serbia controlled this game from start to finish, and I never had any real doubt about the result. The only thing Lithuania was ever able to get going offensively was a few pick and roll buckets by Kalnietis and garbage buckets by Lavrinovic. Kleiza showed a little bit of life late, but they stopped going to him when he got hot. They're going to have to figure out this offensive predicament, and fast.
This was easily the most entertaining game of the day. When you get two offense-heavy teams with an array of energetic guards, you're bound to have a barnburner. The American imports Bo McCalebb and Tyrese Rice were a nice matchup for each other, exploding to the hole against each other when you'd lest expect it. Both teams also had a set of brothers who unexpectedly performed well. On Macedonia, the Stojanovski brothers combined for 27, while Montenegro had the Sehovic brothers combine for 27 as well. Meanwhile, in the post, you had two NBA newcomers in Pero Antic and Nikola Vucevic each providing their own brand of excitement.
At the end of the day, what you saw was two very evenly matched teams play an extremely exciting game, with the lead waxing and waning in both directions. The deciding factor in the game, for me, was the injury to Bo McCalebb that happened in the third quarter. He was able to return after a knocked knee, but he was just half a step slower. As a result, he barely rimmed out three absolutely crucial layups that could have won Macedonia the game, while Tyrese Rice sealed it with a game winning drive.
Ukraine 58, Belgium 57
Both of these teams are looking to take advantage of a weak group A, and this game would be absolutely essential to either's advancement campaign. Belgium controlled this game the whole way, but they were tripped up when they clanked jumpshots late, and Ukraine got hot from three. Sam Van Rossom was the missing link for Belgium, nailing none of his trademark threes. Meanwhile, Pooh Jeter sealed the game with an excellent And 1 play.
Great Britain 75, Israel 71
This win was pretty gigantic for Great Britain, whom I never thought we be able to get within 10 points of victory. But Israel just wasn't able to get a cohesive offense together, and kept fumbling the game away at crucial moments. By far the best part of this game was watching Noam Schiller go crazy on Twitter, but that's another story. After the result of this game I really doubt Israel will see Round 2.
Spain 68, Croatia 40
Spain established themselves as the team to beat, cruising by Croatia with ease. Croatia really struggled to trap against Spain, who has a tone of excellent passers. Spain took advantage and was soon out to a commanding lead. A nice surprise was Bojan Bogdanovic, who was able to take Rudy Fernandez on the baseline on three consecutive occasions.
Slovenia 62, Czech Republic 60
Jan Vesely and the recently drafted Tomas Satoransky were able to lead the underdog Czechs to a near upset victory against Slovenia. I didn't get to watch, but it looks like Slovenia really struggled to get their stars going in the paint. the Czech Republic certainly fooled me, but I wouldn't expect them to come this close to victory again. There's no way Vesely and Satoransky can shoot over 50% and drag their team on a consistent basis.
Italy 76, Russia 69
Highlights, Box Score
Gigi Datome looks like a great pickup for the Pistons right now, as he capped this game off with 25 points and 8 rebounds. Neither team has a lot of firepower down low, but Russia had to live and die by the three, which is never a good thing when your starting point guard is Aleksey Shved. Italy survived a late comeback and are in prime position to advance to Round 2.
Georgia 84, Poland 67
Honestly, I feel pretty bad for guying into Poland's hype. Their bigs produced as we thought they would, but they couldn't stop the high-flying Viktor Sanikidze, or the defensive hawk Manuchar Markoishvili. Meanwhile, their backcourt looked extremely weak, and struggled to get off attempts. The game was never close, and Georgia lookes primed to make a run at round 2.
Latvia 86, Bosnia and Herzegovina 75
Bosnia had 4 assists. As a team. Against a trap-heavy team like Latvia, that will help you lose 100% of the time.
Greece 79, Sweden 51
The result is as expected here. Greece takes control with a second quarter run and cruises to the finish.
Tyrese Rice, Montenegro: He was able to out Bo McCalebb Bo McCalebb.
Heiko Schaffartzik, Germany: The three point bomber has proven himself to be an excellent passer, finishing with 11 assists. But can he lead Germany to the second round?
Kyle Johnson, Great Britain: Just another energetic scoring guard that saw a lot of success. Not sure what to make of his performance yet, but I'll keep tabs on him.
The uniforms of the Finnish coaches. Yes, in the Eurobasket, every team has a uniform for their coaches. Most of the time, it consists of a over-designed polo shirt and some slacks. But the Finnish coaches took it to the next level, wearing coordinated suits. But they're not just any coordinated suits. These stylin' dudes are wearing light blue shirts, dark blue blazers, khaki pants, and what appear to be dark blue boat shoes. So....are they members of a yachting club, or are they getting ready to cosplay as characters from The Prisoner?
Rudy Fernandez is wearing KDs. I just thought you should know.
Highlights of the Day
The Amazing Play
Here, Tyrese Rice wills his team back into the game. After stealing the ball from the talented Vladimir Illievsky, he runs the length of the floor, avoids another steal attempt, dives towards the basket, and throws in a tough lay-in. On the next play, he faked doing the same thing, and made a slick pass to an open big.
The Game Clincher
Unbelievably clutch move by Pooh Jeter here to win the game. Sure, drawing a ridiculous mismatch had something to do with it, but you can't knock him for drawing the And 1 and sealing it.
This was one of the craziest opening days you could possibly have. Lots of upsets of hyped teams, and it really looks like Groups A and B are going to be anybody's game. Spain is clearly still the team to beat, and Greece isn't too far behind, but beyond that, it's really hard to determine who could make a run. Is Serbia more than speed and post moves? Can Tyrese Rice lead Montenegro to a big upset? What about an outside shot? Does Georgia or Italy have a chance to move on up? It's really all up in the air at this point.
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