ISTANBUL – The most anticipated round-of-16 matchup at the FIBA World Championship lived up to its billing for the most part. It was a close game that Spain turned it around with a zone defense that Greece just couldn’t solve in the final 13 minutes of the game.
Except for a few too many turnovers, the first quarter was a thing of beauty, as the two teams combined to score 41 points on 33 possessions. Then Spain went to zone early in the second quarter and took control. Greece went scoreless on five straight possessions before closing to within one and getting Spain out of the zone with four straight scores. But they scored just 12 points on 16 possessions in the period and trailed by six at the half.
Greece took the lead with a 7-0 run to start the third quarter, and after a stretch where they scored 13 points on five possessions, they were up six, 51-45, with 2:49 let in the period. That’s when Spain went zone again, holding Greece to just six points on 13 possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters.
Missed shots and turnovers from Greece turned into a handful of fast-break points for Spain. Their half-court offense was also clicking, with Rudy Fernandez hitting a pair of threes and getting Dimitris Diamantidis to foul him on another.
It was a 22-6 run for Spain, giving them a 10-point lead with less than two minutes to go. Greece gave themselves some life with a Vassilis Spanoulis three, a Sofoklis Schortsanitis 3-point play, and another Schortsanitis and-one. But they missed four free throws in a 45-second span and chose to foul when they were only down four with 54 seconds left. Spain hit their free throws and moved on to the quarterfinals, where they’ll play Serbia on Wednesday.
Here are some more notes…
- Juan Carlos Navarro was the star for Spain, leading all scorers with 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting. He had the floater working, hitting all five of his shots from inside the arc.
- Ricky Rubio didn’t shoot well (2-for-8), but he was in control, turning the ball over just once in 27 minutes.
- Felipe Reyes pulled off a pretty good Kevin Love imitation. He’s not the biggest or most athletic big man on the floor, but he does work on the glass. He finished with 10 rebounds (four offensive) in just 19 minutes. That included a tip-in at the buzzer to end the first quarter, and another big tip-in early in the fourth. For the game, Spain had 16 second-chance points to Greece’s five.
- That 22-6 run? It was mostly pulled off by Spain’s reserves. Gasol was on the floor for the first three points of the run and the last two. Rubio was on the floor for the last nine and Navarro was on the floor for the last six. But the unit that was responsible for most of the damage was Raul Lopez, Sergio Llull, Fernandez, Reyes and Fran Vazquez.
- I didn’t like Jonas Kazlauskas‘ decision to start Schortsanitis over Ioannis Bourousis, but after getting blocked by Gasol twice early on, Sofo had one of his better games. He finished with 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting, drawing eight fouls on Spain.
- Bourousis started four of Greece’s five pool-play games, so coming off the bench might have been an issue. He set a couple of bruising screens, but was largely ineffective offensively, scoring just two points in 18 minutes.
- There’s one other thing that I don’t understand about Greece. And that’s why Spanoulis handles the ball more than Diamantidis. Spanoulis is quicker, but can get out of control. Almost all of his passes come from the air, which gets him in trouble. He had seven turnovers in last week’s exhibition against the U.S. and another four in this game against Spain.