And so, the Round of 16 is over with, and we're finally down to the 8 best teams in the world. At this stage, games stop becoming so easy to predict. Nothing is taken for granted, and every team has the tools it takes to win the whole enchilada. Of course, it's a lot easier for some than it is for others, but Russia or Lithuania has a much better chance of winning it than Angola or China.
So, needless to say, if there was a time to start watching the FIBA World Championships, it would be now. I know I've said that before, but now is really the time to start watching. Think of it this way: We're only 7 games away from crowning a champion, so you've got to jump on a bandwagon as soon as you can! Joining a team in the Semi-Finals is not fun.
And, if that weren't reason enough, know that all 8 Quarter-Finals teams are guaranteed to play 3 more games. So even if your favorite team gets knocked out in the Quarter-Finals, you can still watch them half-heartedly battle through the Classification round and the 5th or 7th Place game. Fun, eh?
But, before we get to previewing all of the Quarter-Finals games, let's take a look back at all of the Round of 16 Matchups.
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Saturday, September 4th
Croatia started off the game very well, playing a high energy game involving quick feet in the post and excellent threes. But some horrible news came late in the 1st when Nenad Krstic got hurt after falling on his rear end after a Croatian player charged into him on a drive. But Croatia's high pace and offensive rebound payed off in the end, as they led 27-19. They didn't have superior bigs, but their ability to swarm in the post, despite being shorter, got them a good amount of rebounds.
Luckily for Thunder fans, Krstic came back into the game late in the 2nd quarter, and he appeared to be fine. And Serbia was doing much better. They continued to be double-teamed in the post, so it was difficult to score there, but they continued to find ways to do so, and they were successful in slowing down the pace of the game, limiting Croatia's scoring. Unfortunately, they were still behind, 34 to 36. Krstic led all scorers with 10 Points, and Perovic had 8.
The Third Quarter was more of a back-and forth affair, with Croatia continuing to hit shots from beyond the arc and Serbia continuing to dump it inside and either score ort get fouled. Via a couple missed shots by Croatia at the ned of the quarter, Serbia has gained a 4 point lead going into the fourth.
In the fourth, Croatia had to do all it could to stay in the game. Serbia was consistently getting into the paint and getting fouled, while Croatia was ferociously throwing up threes and trying to get something going down low.
Towards the end, Serbia was up by 4 when Croatia got a desperation layup, bringing the game within reach. Croatia was able to climb back in via a turnover and a couple of missed freethrows by Serbia. Serbia drove to the other end of the floor, and Krstic was fouled when driving to the basket. He split the freethrows. Popovic traded an eye for an eye on the other end, drawing a foul on Krstic. He made them both, putting Croatia behind by 1 with 21.5 seconds to go. Teodosic inbounded to Rasic, who was immediately fouled. He made both, putting Croatia down by 3. Then, Popovic was fouled. He made both freethrows, putting the seesaw back to three. But then, Croatia stole the ball on the inbounds, and Popovic was fouled. He split the freethrows (making the second), tieing it at 70. Then Serbia broke away from the midcourt defense and made an easy layup on the inbound, putting the deficit back to 2. Croatia inbounded it quickly to Popovic, who was fouled with 5.9 seconds to go. He made both. Serbia threw it down the court to Rasic, who was fouled on a layup attempt with one second to go. He split the freethrows and missed the second. Croatia threw a desperation cross-court shot, but it was short. Serbia had won by a measly point. Krstic led all Serbian scorers with 16, and had 3 Rebounds.
This was a game where Greece consistently was playing from behind. They would always seem to get within a point or two of Spain before falling back by about 6 or 7 and having to climb back out of that hole. But, more interestingly, Greece made no three pointers, seemingly abandoning the strategy they used in earlier games, which consisted of living and dieing on the three. Even stranger was that the leading scorer for Greece was Nikos Zisis, who has been relatively quiet in the tournament so far. And therein was Greece's problem. They were hitting about the same amount of shots that Spain was, but they weren't attempting enough threes.
Greece's highest moment came early in the third when they took a 38-37 lead off of a Antonis Fotsis three, which was their first three of the game. They also led 44-43 on yet another Fotsis three, and got extremely hot from the outside, extending theit lead to 6. But Spain went on a late-quarter run when Greece went cold, and Greece would never lead again. Spain just had the better tools inside, and showed a better ability to get to the line.
Sunday, September 5th
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Australia just didn't have the talent this year, especially inside, to compete against a team like Slovenia. This was evidenced by the game starting 12 to nothing in Slovenia's favor. Slovenia never really looked back, either dumping it off to Brezec in the paint or relying on Jaka Lakovic to do his thing.
Since France upset Spain, I haven't been very impressed with what they've done. They rely two much on two guards for scoring, and their offense can get really stagnant at times. And that's exactly what happened here. France never led, and Turkey's superior talent allowed them to cruise to an easy victory.
Monday, September 6th
The score says it all. The game was never a contest, Angola kept getting blocked and missing threes, and Team USA ran up the score.
Started off on a big New Zealand run (9-2), but Russia caught up quickly. New Zealand mostly got to the line, while Russia was hitting nearly all of their points at the line.
But the third quarter was where things started to get really interesting. Early on, Kirk Penney was called for his fourth foul, sending New Zealand's leading scorer to the bench. Then, Vukona was also called for his fourth foul, sending New Zealand's next best scorer to the bench. This handicapped New Zealand offensively, as their shorter team would often throw up a bad layup, while Russia was continuing to score easy buckets on the other end of the floor. Russia got their lead up to 16 before Penney came back into the game and cut it to 11 by the half. That made it clear how essential Penney was to the team, not only in ways of scoring, but because of his great court vision as well.
Early in the 4th, New Zealand had chipped Russia's lead down to 8, but that is as close as they would get. The game remained relatively even for the rest of the quarter, but the deficit had really killed New Zealand's chances. By the end of the game, New Zealand's guards had run out of gas, and the Russians just gave them too much to deal with inside.
Tuesday, September 7th
China actually led early on in this one, thanks to some energetic play in the post. And China was threatening to get back into contention all game. But Lithuania is the much more talented team, and by the end of the 4th, they cruised to an easy victory.
What I expected to be a intense center on center battle had instead turned into a very well-balanced game. Splitter had been relatively ineffective so far, while Scola had scored well, but this deficiency was made up for on Brazil's side by Marcelo Huertas. Both teams were playing very similar games during the first half, with the stats for both teams virtually mirroring each other.
The Third quarter started off much more inside-oriented, with guards scoring well via intense drives. At one point, Brazil was up by 7, but Argentina came charging back with some well placed threes, and the game continued to stay close, with Brazil keeping a slight advantage. By the end of the quarter, the score was tied. The fourth quarter was a lot of back and forth scoring, with very little defense being played. It seemed that the winner of this game would be the team that managed to be on top of the scoring boon at the right time. And that team was Argentina.
With Luis Scola going absolutely insane, how could they not win? Soon, Brazil had fallen behind, and they were never able to recover. Brazil had the ball when they were three points down with about 45 seconds to go, but Barbosa got the ball stolen, Scola made a deep 2, and the rest was academic. One could say that Brazil lost just because they were unlucky, but they would have been the better team had they been able to get production out of Tiago Splitter or Anderson Varejao, who combined for only 17 Points, while Scola had 37. Getting outscored by 20 in the post seriously doesn't help your winning cause. Huertas and Barbosa certainly did all they could and had great games, but Brazil is usually much more than those two players.
And so, the four quarterfinals matchups are:
1. Serbia (Group B) vs. 3. Spain (Group D)
1. Turkey (Group C) vs. 2. Slovenia (Group B)
1. Team USA (Group B) vs. 2. Russia (Group C)
1. Lithuania (Group D) vs. 2. Argentina (Group B)
Previews to come!