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Olympic Qualifying Tournament Semi-Finals: Saric showcases dribble game in narrow victory over Greece

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Also: Carlos Arroyo steps up in the clutch for Puerto Rico, and the combo of Jokic and Raduljica dominate the Czech bigs

Soon to be NBA bound.
Soon to be NBA bound.
Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Games I watched

Saric finds groove as Croatia holds off energetic Greek squad

Greece and Croatia are two European basketball powerhouses, with storied histories that include numerous European medals. What separates them this time is the presence of Giannis and Thanasis Antetokoumpo, which give Greece a serious athletic edge. But Croatia boasts more NBA experience, and may have the two most talented individual scorers in Bojan Bogdanovic and Dario Saric.

Early in the game, it was Simon who made an impact, hitting three long jumpers early for eight points. Croatia was able to benefit from Greece's turnovers. Croatia got out to a 20-3 start before a Papetrou three ended the drought. From that point on, Greece pretty much treaded water. The coach experimented with putting the Antetokoumpo brothers out there together, but it gave up too much shooting. Bogdanovic and Saric continued to produce for Croatia, with Bogdanovic hooting well and Saric scoring off the dribble.

Midway through the second quarter, the couple thousand Greek fans present began doing loud, long, and sophisticated chants to pump up their team. Greece was down by as much as 24. Giannis Antetokoumpo answered the call, using a couple of spin moves to get to the basket. Even Agravanis hit a miracle bank three. Things culminated when the Croatian coach, Aco Petrovic, got a technical. Petrovic was complaining about a foul call that he asserted was a charge. This gave Greece an extra free throw and possession. This fired up Greece, who produced a Perperoglu three, a Perperpoglu slam over Planinic, and sweet Koufos hook. Going into the half, Croatia held only a 44-34 lead. Roko Ukic had five assists at the half, while Giannis Antetokoumpo had 4 turnovers. This perhaps best exemplifies the difference in distribution between the two teams.

Greece was quick to erase the rest of the deficit as soon at the third quarter began. Perperoglu rebounded a Giannis three for an And 1, and then made a floater. Even Borousis, the big man, knocked in a three. Meanwhile, Croatia was missing some tough outside shots, shooting only 25% from beyond the arc through the first three quarters. With about 3 minutes to go, Greece got the lead. But Croatia quickly got back into stride, securing a precious few baskets from Bogdanovic and Saric. Heading into the fourth, Croatia had a three point lead.

The first two minutes of the fourth quarter were scoreless, with neither team making a serious offensive effort. But that changed with an amazingly coordinated layup from Bojan Bogdanovic, high and over two defenders. Then Hezonja stole the ball from Giannis at mid-court, then dunked the ball in transition. This put Croatia up 7. Giannis missed a deep shot clock three, and then Hezonja ran in from the weak side to get a dunk. Croatia was up 9, and Greece called a timeout.

There was some more time of scorelessness, with Greece continuing to launch it from deep. A Bogdanovic fade put Croatia up 11. Greece looked to a few Borousis isolations, but he drew two offensive fouls. Borousis recovered though, and a Giannis drive off a fake three put Greece within 6. But with just seconds left, a Hezonja drive got Croatia to the line. Hezonja went 1 of 2, leaving Greece within 7. But Greece got an offensive rebound on their next possession, and kicked it back out for a three. Greece down 4, 18 seconds to go. Bogdanovic was immediately fouled and made 1 of 2, putting Greece within 5 and having a breath of a chance.

Petrovic argued at this point, saying that he had the right to sub in anyone he wanted. But Planinic hadn't played a possession, and was already subbed in. So Planinic couldn't be subbed out. But Croatia eventually complied, and coach Petrovic was throwing thumbs up out to the fans. Giannis threw the ball into the crowd after the game in anger.

Slammin' Notes

  • A shot clock problem stopped play for a solid timeout at the end of the first half. It came after a slog of fouls so it was funny to hear everyone complain.
  • Greece has the youngest average age of anyone in this tournament.
  • One of the best plays of this game was Thanasis Antetokoumpo running the length of the court to stop a slow-motion Bogdanovic dunk. The Thunder need to sign this guy!

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Arroyo shines late to bring Puerto Rico to Final

(2nd half only)

The third quarter was tightly contested between two evenly matched teams. Latvia obviously had the size advantage, getting a couple of essential offensive rebounds and pounding it inside. Puerto Rico made an effort to stop the shooter off the dribble, creating a couple of opportunities for Latvia's roll men. Given how Latvia was 1 of 19 from three, it was kind of perplexing.

On the other end, Puerto Rico was making a lot of attacks off the dribble. The sure hands of Barea and Arroyo always generated good shots, but Puerto Rico had trouble making anything that wasn't near the rim. But Holland and Arroyo hit threes, keeping it close.

The fourth quarter saw both teams keep it ridiculously close. Latvia was constantly attacking off of the pick and roll with different players. But Puerto Rico jumped out to an early 59-53, getting a boost from a sanchez and huertas three. But Latvia slowly re-evened the score, pounding away at their sophisticated halfcourt offense.

With about four minutes to go, Carlos Arroyo hit a Jordan/Waiters-esque stepback mid-range shot on peceniks, a much bigger defender. This gave Puerto Rico a 68-65 lead. Then, Silins responded with a three on the other end as Puerto Rico scrambled to defend the rim. With two minutes left, a timeout was called. Both teams were tied, with elimination on the line.

Puerto Rico got an open three off the timeout, but missed it. But Renaldo Balkman hustled for an incredible board, putting it back in for a two point Puerto Rico lead. Strelnieks attempted to respond with a jumper, but was well defended. It was then Carlos Arroyo who put Puerto Rico over the top. A big three around a screen, along with a steal on an offensive rebound and ensuing assist basically sealed the game for Puerto Rico.

Slammin' Notes

  • I liked how the announcer called a bounce pass between the bigs a "phone booth pass".
  • Davis Bertans hit a really deep three, dude is legit but did most of his scoring in the first half.

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Serbia uses superior bigs, ballhandling to crush Czech Republic

This game started out pretty competitive, with the Czech Republic having some early success from three and good play from Satoranszky. But Serbia was looking like the superior team. Milos Teodosic was finding players left and right, and Bogdanovic hit a pair of threes. Most notably, Serbia had 13 points off turnovers, perhaps highlighting the lack of ballhandling on the Czech team. By the end of the first, Serbia had mounted a 9 point lead.

But the Czech Republic kept threatening. A couple of early threes brought them within 6. Later, a Satoranszky three put them within 7. Serbia definitely kept looking to pull away though. In the second quarter it was more about their big men, as Raduljica and Jokic found easy space in the paint. But the individual talent of the Czech Republic kept battling, as Satoranzky and Vesely created all of the shots. At the half, the Czech Republic was down a surmountable 9 points. Satoranzky led the Czech Republic in points with 10, rebounds with 4, and assists with 3.

Serbia got their lead out to 17 early, spurred by an 11 point run from Milos Teodosic. But Jiri Welsch, the former NBA player and 36 year old veteran, ended the run with a drive. From then on, more threes dropped for the Czechs. A few fast break opportunities later, and the Czechs were back to being down by 9. But the Serbians were quick to close the door. A three from Teodosic, a three from Markovic, and a Raduljica basket inside put Serbia back up 15 going into the fourth. The Czechs just could not seal the perimeter.

With a couple of fast break plays, the Czechs were able to keep the deficit at 15 early. But by the mid-fourth, Serbia's bigs were dominating. Raduljica was throwing behind the back passes, and Jokic was hitting mid-range jumpers.

Slammin' Note

  • There were a good number of Czech fans in attendance, but I couldn't tell at first because both countries have the same flag colors. Hehe.

Game I didn't watch

Italy 79, Mexico 54

Seems like Italy had pretty firm control of this one. Nicola Melli's 14 points off the bench is a sign of his rising value as a scorer.

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Serbia/Puerto Rico and Italy/Croatia will play for an Olympic bid at 2 PM Central Tomorrow. The Manila semi-finals are tomorrow morning.

Any thoughts on the tournaments so far? Drop a comment and let us know!