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.
(Before you say it, I know that Russia was 0-2. But so was Sweden, and they were considered huge underdogs heading into this competition.)
With their Olympic Bronze-medal winning backcourt still intact, Russia have started the tournament off at 0-3, and likely won't be advancing. A dip in performance was expect, but losing to Sweden? It boggles the mind. But really, Russia had three very glaring problems in this game.
The first is the lack of a big man. I didn't catch the whole game, but what I remember of Russia's starting Center, Dmitry Sokolov, is a blown wide open dunk. He and the backup center, Anton Ponkrashov, combined for a measly 9 rebounds. And defensively, they were atrocious. Sweden's athletic guards were gliding to the rim at will, and they allowed Sweden's bigs to grab 15 offensive boards.
The second is the lack of a true point guard. Aleksey Shved is a fine player. He's creative, he can drive to the rim, and he has good court vision. But he's not a point guard. He really lacks in speed and quickness, and he's not a real threat to hit the three. That was evidenced today by his 0 assists and 5 turnovers. Russia tried to alleviate the problem of Shved by starting Dmitry Khovostov, but he barely even gets time on his club team. The net result was a disastrous 24 turnovers.
The third is the lack of solid three point shooting. Russia went a stone cold 3 of 17 from the perimeter. There's not much to say about this one, really, other than that Russia doesn't have a lot of shooters. Sergey Monya and Vitaliy Fridzon were really great when they had other players creating for them, but they can't shoot off the dribble. So they end up taking a lot of bad attempts, and basically let the defense go to a zone or pressure at will.
With all of those things wrong, Sweden didn't have to do much right. But they looked great in this game. They controlled the boards by a big margin, and the combo of Jeffery Taylor and Jonas Jerebko combined for 17-34 shooting. They took over half their team's shots, meaning that they're basically the Durant and Westbrook of Sweden. Also chipping in for the Swedes was the defensive Viktor Gaddefors. He had 4 steals overall, with two of them sparking the run in the fourth quarter that put Russia away.
Moving forward, Russia has matchups against Finland and Turkey coming up. They could win either game, but they're going to have to take care of the ball and get their shooters open. In any case, it's not likely that they could make it to the second round, anyway. Sweden, on the other hand, has two matchups against Turkey and Italy. Any run from them would require a great showing from their two stars.
I only got to catch the fourth quarter of this one, but man, was it crazy. Poland marched their way back from a 20 point deficit, cutting the lead all the way to one. But after they were given several golden opportunities, they just couldn't get over the hump. It almost looked as if the team was nervous, with each player unwilling to take the decisive shot. The hustle was definitely there though, as I saw them claw for offensive rebounds and tip-ins with fierce energy.
From browsing the game stats, it looks to me like the Polish coach was able to go on a run when he stopped playing Gortat and Lampe alongside each other, and simply rotated them both in at center. It made them a lot more lean offensively, and gave them an extra pair of hands to move the ball around. All in all, the team was more effective as a whole, and it allowed both Gortat and Lampe to come into their own after a miserable first half.
In regards to the end of the game, you really have to feel for Poland. They did everything right to get the shots they needed, and they just couldn't make them fall when it mattered. The ultimate cruel joke came in the final two minutes. After Krzysztof Szubarga stampeded his way to the basket for two points, Poland was only down by one. but after a missed jumper, Croatia managed to get an offensive rebound, something Poland might've avoided if their bigs were in the game. As Poland returned down the floor, they still had a chance to tie it with a three. But after four consecutive attempts, including one that barely rolled out, they couldn't take the lid off of the rim. Bogdanovic sealed it with a fastbreak layup, and Poland missed two more consecutive shots. As a final tease, Szubarga hit a meaningless three in the final second, after never getting a chance at it a couple of plays earlier.
Slovenia 72, Georgia 68
The host nation does it again! I really wasn't expecting Slovenia to do this well, but they'e really ridden their home crowd and ruined a few people's brackets. Part of the reason is role players stepping up and performing huge roles. The example tonight was Domen Lorbek, who got really hot from behind the three point line when his team needed it.
But Slovenia deserves credit for their strategy as well. Georgia got off to an early lead by relentlessly pounding it in the paint with their guards, Viktor Sanikidze and George Tsintsadze. Basically, Slovenia is a bit thin in terms of their big man core, and they prefer to outscore you above all else. So outscore Georgia they did. They managed to figure out that Georgia would do anything to stop a player from penetrating the lane, sometimes drawing three defenders to the ballhandler like a magnet. But Georgia was a bit too jumpy in doing so. So the Slovenian ballhandlers were able to dribble into the high post and dish it off for some really easy threes, resulting in Slovenia gaining the lead back by halftime.
Georgia responded to this as well. They stopped guarding the penetrator and spaced out their defense. They started to guard the three well, but their interior defense was compromised. Slovenia scored back to the basket a couple of times, and upped their penetration.
But despite Georgia's efforts, they just weren't able to climb back into the game in time. They took a few too many heat checks during their comeback, and they couldn't nail a three to save their lives. Meanwhile, Slovenia was able to close the game on a Lorbek fake pass and three and an amazing-looking Goran Dragic Drive. Significantly, that last drive was on Lezhava, the backup point guard who had to come in when Tsinsadze fouled out. So for that reason alone, you could say that Georgia lost because of a lack of depth.
Moving forward, Slovenia now sits at 3-0 atop Group C, with a rivalry matchup coming against Poland tomorrow. Georgia sits at 1-2, and will have to beat Spain if they want three wins.
Spain 60, Czech Republic 39
Wow, what an incredibly ugly game. Spain shot 32% from the field on 68 shots, while the Czechs shot 24% from the field on 62 shots. There were only 21 combined free throws between the two teams. If that's not enough, consider that the Czechs scored 2 points in the fourth quarter, while Spain only managed 4 until the last three minutes.
What made this game so unwatchable? Well, there were factors on both sides. The Czechs were doing an excellent job of denying the Spanish anything in the paint, at least in terms of big men. Marc Gasol was denied an entry pass on several occasions, and they weren't afraid to double-team any player that came in the area. The flip side was that the Czechs left a lot of shooters open, especially in transition. But with Spain unable to establish themselves in the post and use it as a conduit for their offense, things fell apart. They struggled to move the ball around, and ended up losing it or setting up a bad shot a lot of the time.
The Czech's problems on offense were mostly their own. Whenever they were able to push the ball on the break, they were generally successful, but beyond that, they had nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. All of their plays were extremely basic, with only one or two men in motion. The weak side of the floor would just see guys stand out on the three point line, trying to give space for the Czech players to work. I might understand it if the team had some legitimate shot creating threats, but they have none and were playing one of the most talented teams in the tournament.
Making things worse for the Czechs was their lack of a point guard. They use the services of Jiri Welsch, but he's 6'5". and doesn't have a ton of speed. He's a nice jack of all trades when it comes to the game, but his court vision isn't exceptional, either. Thus, he hands the ball off a lot, and the team was really prone to losing the ball in the back court.
The key difference between the two teams were talent and communication. The Czech Republic had a few really good chances to score in the fourth, while the game was still in limbo. But Jan Vesely missed a wide open dunk, and they failed to score on a possession where they got two offensive rebounds. Eventually, they started losing the ball in the back court, and Spain took over. The Czechs also messed up a few key fast breaks, and could never really get a solid run going in the second half.
Moving forward, Spain escapes with the win, improves to 2-1, and should have no problems advancing. You have to question the reliance of their offense on using the post as a conduit, though. They had 14 turnovers in their loss to Slovenia, and it can't be a coincidence. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic falls to 1-2, and will need to sweep Georgia and Croatia to have a solid shot at advancement.
Italy 62, Finland 44
This was another really ugly game. Finland's offense wasn't as bad looking as the Czechs, but they went though extremely long stretches of dry offense. There were three or four occasions of four plus scoreless minutes, interrupted by a short burst of 4-8 points. Italy scored more, but their offense left a lot to be desired. They played a very physical game, trying to drive the ball into the heart of the defense and force up difficult jumpshots.
But the strangest thing about this game wasn't the terrible offense among two normally high scoring teams. It was the total lack of post play. Both teams absolutely refused to post up or use their big men beyond basic dump off situations. As a result, both teams knew what their opponent was going to do, so there was a lot of hard individual defense on both sides. Neither team wanted to trap, either, though both did exploit the break whenever they got the chance. If that wasn't enough, both of the players who had the potential to score with their individual talent, Petteri Koponen and Marco Bellinelli, had miserable nights.
The key change of pace in this game came in the third quarter. By the time the mid-third quarter rolled around, the game had basically hammered itself to a standstill, with both teams firing up bad jumpers. But something broke in Finland's defense at that point. It looked like the players got a bit tired, and Italy was able to grab a few free trips to the rim. After Italy made a quick run, Finland responded by packing the paint, and the game was back to being a complete standstill for 5-8 minutes. Finally, in the fourth, Italy slowly pulled away, like a 10 ton locomotive hauling way too much cargo.
In the end, I think you can pinpoint Finland's loss down to two areas. For one, Kopponen's lack of distribution really killed the team. He was unable to establish himself as a scoring threat, and he was clearly frustrated. During the game, he elbowed an Italian player in the throat, and tripped Pietro Aradori after he lost the ball. He seemed heated the entire time, and it led to more reckless play. The other area I'd pin it down to is their total lack of three point shooting. Basically, they didn't hit a single three after the 55 second mark in the first quarter, yet took 26 attempts in all. Yikes.
Looking ahead, Italy sits at a cool 3-0 in the group, and should have no problem advancing. They face Greece tomorrow, and that matchup will likely determine the top seed. I'm not sure how much I like their chances, but they should be able to make it interesting. Finland falls to 2-1, and still has dates with Russia and Greece.
Greece 84, Turkey 61
Hedo Turkoglu went 0-9 with 4 turnovers in 31 minutes. Semih Erden and Omer Asik combined for 11 points. Oh, Karem Tunceri, where art thou?
Semen Antonov, Russia: "The Man From Nowhere" was able to grab an efficient 13 points as a lone bright spot for Russia.
Krzyszto Szubarga, Poland: He had some really clutch baskets for the team late, and it was a shame that he didn't get to take their final three.
Domen Lorbek, Slovenia: An excellent performance from three really helped seal the game for his team.
Stratos Perperoglu, Greece: In his biggest role for the Greek team in his career, he's shot an amazing 72% from the field while averaging 10 points.
Here's a Polish Thunder Cowboy.
Also, if you haven't noticed, I like to do a lot of coach watching at these tournaments. The Spanish coach, Juan Orenga, always has a pretty calm demeanor on the sidelines. Most of the time, he looks like he's surprised, puzzled, or worried. Obviously you won't see many of the worried expression on his google images page, but seriously, check it out. His face says it all.
Speaking of coach image searches on google, check out the Italian coach, Simone Panigiani. The best part about this guy isn't his awesomely emotional expressions (though those are pretty sweet). In fact, it's how he never unbuttons his jacket. So while he's out there making all these hand signals, dancing around, and reacting emotionally, his jacket is always struggling to keep up.
The Amazing Play
Ah, the classic 360 dunk. You knew it had to come some time. This was the beginning of the end for Russia.
The Game Clincher
Absolute classic Goran Dragic here. The fake on the perimeter, the spin move on the baseline....oh, how beautiful this game gets.
As we enter the final two days of the initial groups, the stage is set. Here's some flimsy predictions for groups C and D.
In Group C, Slovenia and Spain are the clear top bananas. Slovenia's won all three of their games, and Spain hasn't had any problems in either of their two victories. Spain should be able to clear their schedule pretty easily and grab the second seed. Slovenia might drop a tough rivalry match against Croatia, but they're playing better ball right now. The third spot will probably end up going to Croatia, assuming they can beat Poland. But I could see a future in which there's a three way tie for third with Poland, Georgia, and Croatia at 2-3. Still, it's unlikely, because it would involve Georgia beating Spain and Poland beating both Slovenia and Spain. The only team that I'd say has no chance is the Czech Republic, who just aren't polished enough to win consistently.
The cards are moreso out on the table in Group D. Greece and Italy will battle for group supremacy tomorrow, with Greece coming in as a heavy favorite. Finland controls their own destiny in the third spot and should be able to beat Russia and secure it. Sweden is the wildcard in all of this, boasting two talented stars but not much else. I wouldn't read too much into their defeat of Russia, though. Sitting at rock bottom are Turkey and Russia, both of whom are tragically flawed in different ways. They're both talented enough to steal a game, but with the way they've played I just don't see it happening.
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