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.
Welp, looks like all of those suspicions about Bo McCalebb's knee have been erased. He returned to the court today without a brace, and easily cruised his way to 27 points. But despite his huge performance, McCalebb wasn't the story tonight.
The story tonight was Pero Antic. At first glance, it might look like he was having an absolutely miserable game. He couldn't hit a three to save his life, and he had nothing going on down low. But the key was in his defense. Antic was able to hold Nenad Krstic to 9 points on 3 of 9 shooting and prevent him from shooting on several occasions. Moreover, Krstic's made shots never came off of a post up. They all came in a fast break or on a pick and roll. If nothing else, that's psychological intimidation. Rasko Katic, the backup center, wasn't able to get anything going either.
Because of Serbia's inability to get anything going inside, their offense suffered. They were able to get some easy attempts from three early on, but it eventually became more and more apparent that Serbia was timid about taking it to the hole, allowing Macedonia to spread out their D.
This brings me back to Antic. You see, his constant three point shooting was actually beneficial, despite the 1 of 9 result. Why? Well, he was able to spread the Serbian defense out and open up the lane, allowing McCalebb to flourish. You see, Serbia was clever enough to switch off on Antic whenever he went to the perimeter, so you wouldn't have the slow-footed Krstic bumbling out to the three point line. But that doesn't really mean anything when your interior defenders are sub-par and rely on help defense all of the time. If Serbia's defense is spread out and looking for the three, they're going to give up some baskets down low.
Macedonia took full advantage of this in the second half. You see, in the first half, they looked like Latvia, taking more threes than they did twos. But they knew that the strategy couldn't last them forever, so they make a marked effort at getting their guards inside. At that point, Serbia started relentlessly trapping defensively, and their constant gambling resulted in some wide open shots for Macedonia. The game never got closer than 11 in the fourth quarter, and Macedonia cruised to victory.
But at the end of the day, Macedonia played with a ton of heart today. They were clearly vexed from the close losses on the two previous days, and they really needed this win. They should be able to cruise to advancement against Latvia and Bosnia. Serbia, meanwhile, has a day to pick up the pieces. But I see no reason why they won't win at least one of their next two. No way Krstic can be denied for this long.
First, lets get something out of the way. Pooh Jeter and Sergii Gladyr were AMAZING in this game, Like, UNSTOPPABLE amazing. Sergii Gladyr in particular was making unbelievably clutch shots and plays. He even hit a contested shot from near halfcourt around halftime. So basically, this makes three straight games in which he's propelled his team to victory. Simply unbelievable.
Anyway, Germany basically gave this game away. They had the ball up by one with only three minutes to go, when Heiko Schaffartzik stopped behind the halfcourt line to talk to the ref. The ref refused to talk, and indicated that Schaffartzik had limited time to get over halfcourt. Schaffartzik ran right into a firmly planted Pooh Jeter, and committed a silly offensive foul. Two plays later, with Germany down two, Tibor Pleiss committed a needless foul with his arm while setting a screen. Both of these were basically unforced turnovers, and really unforgivable when you're in the heat of a close game.
Another thing Germany failed to do was execute. They did a great job of distributing the ball today, especially when Schaffartzik and Per Gunther were on the court together. But late in the second quarter, they hit a total offensive wall. They were doing all of the right things and getting open shots, but the ball just wasn't going in the hoop. As an analyst, it seems like something easy to point to, but I've seen Germany struggle offensively before, like when they kept isoing against Belgium. They do deserve partial blame for relying way too much on the three though, and not utilizing Tibor Pleiss. I mean, I saw them successfully run the pick and roll with Maik Zirbes a couple of times, so why not Pleiss?
On Ukraine's end, the zone defense really encouraged Germany to keep firing up the triples. Ukraine coach Mike Fratello knew it, and during the first quarter he told his team to "tighten up" the defense. I really hope he never has to play Finland or Latvia. In any case, the offensive strategy was sound. Jeter and Gladyr were the main catalysts, with Jeter shooting off the dribble and Gladyr moving well off the ball. Natyazhko was a nice third wheel, able to use off ball screens to run out of the post for open shots. I feel like Ukraine's offense did stagnate at times, when they would just start heat-checking from three. Still, I feel like this team can beat anybody right now, as long as the other team can't torch you from three.
Moving forward, Germany still has a very solid shot at the second round. Israel is in shambles now, especially after it was announced today that Alexander Tyus would miss the rest of the tournament. The other team they have to face, Great Britain, is at a significant talent disadvantage. Ukraine could win a wide open group, but they'd need to beat France, and that's easier said than done.
Lithuania 67, Latvia 59
This game was a case of the bigs versus the smalls. The point guard-less Lithuania went up against the center-less Latvia, and it was entertaining to watch. Latvia was constantly kicking it around the perimeter, using standard isos and pick and rolls to get their players open. Furthermore, Latvia almost never went to the paint. The few times they did allow one of their bigs to go back to the basket, they were forcibly denied by the athleticism of Jonas Valanciunas.
Late in the game, Latvia's offense collapsed upon itself. They were never really able to see consistent success from three in the first place, even when they were getting open attempts. But their overwillingness to share the ball (10 players had at least one three point attempt) never got anybody in rhythm. So when the game came down to the final crucial possessions, they didn't have anybody to look to. This strategy is consistent across all of their games, but they've never had such a large portion of three point attempts, either.
Defensively, Latvia went for steals, more than anything else. They were able to force the slower Lithuania into 20 turnovers overall, and it resulted in them making up for their poor rebounding total and inability to get to the line. But I think Coach Nick of Bballbreakdown put it best when he was live tweeting the game. Latvia simply doesn't have a lot of discipline on D. They nearly lost the game in the second quarter when, on two consecutive plays, Latvian players outright lost their defenders.
On the other hand, Lithuania was all about getting the ball into the post. They started out the game by doing the standard pick and roll and throwing it out to Kleiza on the wing. But once it was apparent that Kleiza wouldn't be totally on form, Lithuania let their post players isolate on the block. This is pretty strange for Lithuania, as they usually strictly go to pick and roll. Even against Macedonia yesterday, where Lithuania also went post only, isolating was extremely rare. The post ups became so frequent late in the game that I felt like I was watching some early 90s NBA.
Defensively, Lithuania also went away from tradition and used a fair bit of pressure and trapping on the three point line. It might seem strange for a team with so little speed on the perimeter to do such a thing, but it managed to work. They didn't force a lot of turnovers, but Latvia never took the ball into the paint, so Lithuania was able to force Latvia into a bunch of bad three point shots. Had they gone to their traditional zone defense, they might have been torched.
In terms of distribution, Lithuania's still got work to do. Mantas Kalnietis is willing to share the ball, and can work in basic pick and roll situations. But he's still primarily a scoring guard, and doesn't have that James Harden-like court vision that some scoring guards do. Thus, he can be a frustating turnover machine at times. His backup, Tomas Delininkaitis, started off strong but finished weak. He just makes a few too many bad decisions, and thinks his talent level is a bit higher than it is.
Looking ahead, Latvia certainly won't face this type of defensive post presence again, so they don't have a lot to worry about on that front. But I think that they have to work at finding a hot hand and feeding it on the perimeter. If somebody has an open shot, that's one thing, but I saw several mediocre players spot up with guys in their face, or from three feet behind the line. Keep the team's trust, but set boundaries. Lithuania, now with two wins, should have absolutely no problem with advancing.
Belgium 76, Great Britain 71
This was a pretty evenly matched, offensively minded game. By all statistical accounts, this is the best game Great Britain has played in this tournament. They relied on Daniel Clark, as usual, but they were able to get a number of other players going as well. Their ball distribution is low though, and they had trouble scoring inside the arc against Belgium's zone-ish interior D. Meanwhile, Belgium continues to get great production out of Sacha Massot, a great pick and roll threat.
Bosnia and Herzegovina 76, Montenegro 70
Montenegro held a sizeable lead midway through this game, but Bosnia heated up. They finally learned how to pass the ball around a bit, gathering 14 assists. That's more than they had in their first two games combined. They also relied on Teletovic and Kikanovis to create shots, which they were mostly unsuccessful at. But when they were able to hit, they sparked big runs. On the other end, Montenegro got three happy, and their top scorer, Dubljevic, faltered down the stretch. I can't really blame them, though. They've had one of the fastest offenses in the Eurobasket, and this is their third day in a row with an early game. All in all, Group B's standings are wide open right now.
France 82, Israel 63
French fans got to breathe a sigh of relief after this one. They were able to torch the hapless Israel on talent and a great third quarter run. Israel has nobody to take advantage of France's lack of a center (except Lior Eliyahu), and France can beat them at their own game in regards to everything else.
Sergii Gladyr, Ukraine: Three straight games. Sealed. Eat your heart out, Derek Fisher.
Lior Eliyahu, Israel: With Tyus gone, he's the lone interior rock for Israel, and he's pretty efficient. Close to being a double-double guy.
Sacha Massot, Belgium: After a no show in Game 1, he's had two straight games of 15 points and over 50% shooting. Great pick and roll guy.
Nemanja Gordic, Bosnia and Herzegovina: 17 Points, 6 Rebounds, and 4 Assists in 22 minutes. He brings efficiency and destribution, two things Bosnia needs desperately right now.
Heiko Schaffartzik, Germany: He's back to 11 assists now! When he's working with another ballhandler like Per Gunther, his talents really shine though.
Don't have anything especially cool today, so I'll share a couple of things with you. First of all, during a first quarter timeout, when Serbia was down by about 10 or so, coach Dusan Ivkovic was getting a bit long-winded. He was talking in Serbo-Croatian, so I don't know what he was talking about, but the players were getting up to leave. All of a sudden, in the middle of talking, he says, "Sit down!". The players kinda stand stupified, until he bellows out, "SIT DOWN!" Then, they all sat down and listen to the end of his rant.
Also, if you didn't read the Germany-Ukraine recap above, the best part was about how Heiko Schaffartzik turned the ball over. Basically, late in the game with his team up one, he stopped in the backcourt to talk to a ref. While he was dribbling the ball. The ref indicated for him to move up the court, and he did, right into the planted feet of Pooh Jeter. Needless turnover. What's even stranger is how, two plays later, Schaffartzik called a crucial play from the huddle. It looked like he butted in himself and just straight up called it, instead of the coach. I haven't seen a ton of coach huddles in my lifetime, but I'd be willing to bet that's kind of unprecedented.
Highlights of the Day
The Amazing Play
Remember how I told you about an awesome Sergii Gladyr play where he hit it from nearly halfcourt? Well, that kinda happened twice today.
The Game Clincher
Germany was never really able to recover after this one. They had just committed two offensive fouls, and all of their momentum was gone. Meanwhile, Gladyr had just hit the previous shot and drawn one of those offensive fouls. This play was just icing on the cake.
So, Groups A and B are finally taking shape. If you had told me before the tournament that the only team in these two groups with a 3-0 record would be Ukraine, I would have told you that you were insane. But that's why the game is played. In all honesty, I'm kinda glad there were some key talent absences in the tournament. It's allowed for a lot more competition, and made no team look infalliable.
In Group A, Ukraine (3-0) will almost certainly advance, but I doubt it will be as an undefeated team. They've still got France in their schedule. France (2-1) should advance themselves, though I could see them dropping a game to Belgium or Ukraine if things go awry. Belgium (2-1) are looking strong, and should advance with a win over Israel. Germany (1-2) has an uphill road to climb, especially since they lost the tiebreaker to Belgium. They should be able to climb to 3-2 with wins over Israel and Great Britain. If Belgium, France, and Germany all fall at 3-2, then it will most likely come down to point differential. Meanwhile, Great Britain (1-2) would need a real miracle to advance at this point, but they did play their best game so far today. Israel (0-3) is chicken dinner at this point. Just don't see them putting together a win with the way they're playing.
In Group B, nothing is decided. No team looks significantly stronger than the rest. One team does stand out at the bottom though, and that's Bosnia (1-2). They rely way too much on individual talent, play their guys heavy minutes, and don't pass. Anyway, my best guess is that Lithuania (2-1) climbs to 4-1 and wins the group, simply because Bosnia's bad and Montenegro doesn't pressure. Serbia (2-1) should be right behind them at 3-2, besting Montenegro and losing to Latvia because of their poor perimeter D. This means that Latvia (2-1) would get to at 3-2, losing to Macedonia. Macedonia (1-2) should be able to ride their current wave of momentum and passionate fans to victories over Bosnia and Latvia. With three teams at a 3-2 record, Macedonia would get second with their victories over Latvia and Lithuania. Then, Lithuania would get third with their victory over Latvia. Meanwhile, Montenegro (1-2) would lose to strong Serbian and Lithuanian squads.
But, those are just predictions. Got any of your own? Let me know in the comments!
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