HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Spain claimed the top spot in Group E with an easy win over France in what should have been a clash of the titans on Day 11 at EuroBasket 2011.
(More on that shortly!)
The day belonged to the crew from Serbia, though, as they claimed something even more important; a spot in the quarterfinals …
Serbia 68, Turkey 67 (Box Score)
Serbia needed this win to secure their ticket to the quarterfinals and to keep their Olympic hopes alive. They also needed an Ersan Ilyasova miss in the final seconds to escape Turkey in a thriller that went down the final tense moments for both teams. It helped that Milos Tedosic finally returned to form, finishing with a game-high 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
This loss is a wicked blow for Turkey, the runner-up (to the U.S. team) at last summer’s World Championships on their home soil. “We are very sad,” said Turkey coach Orhun Ene. “We were second at the last World Championship and we had big expectations for this tournament. We didn’t show our potential throughout the tournament. We promised the Turkish people that we would try to qualify for the Olympics for the first time, but we lost too many games. This was our last chance and we lost the game in only one possession.”
They won’t have to search hard to find reasons why didn’t succeed. Making just 55 percent (16-for-29) of your free throws in a game decided by the thinnest of margins is certainly a recipe for disaster. Remember, they made a paltry 45 percent (10-for-22) of their free throws Friday in a six-point loss to Germany. Serbia shot an impressive 81 percent (13-for-16) from the free throw line and also grabbed three more rebounds (38-35) than Turkey.
“This was very tough. Everybody was under pressure as the winner would go to the quarterfinals,” said Serbia’s coach, Dusan Ivkovic. “We controlled the game in the first half but our concentration went down in the second half. We led the game for almost 40 minutes only to allow Turkey to have the last shot. We deserved this victory because we were better on the night.”
Spain 96, France 69 (Box Score)
The top spot in Group E belongs to the defending champions, courtesy of their win over a France team that played without both Tony Parker and Joakim Noah (both given a day of rest). Without two of their biggest stars, France struggled to keep the game close after halftime. Spain used a 27-4 run in the third quarter to blow the game open and then cruised to the finish. The loss ended France’s seven-game win streak.
The difference in approach to this game was interesting, with France easing up and Spain going all out. “It was a weird game but we wanted to respect our opponent as well as other teams who are playing in this tournament to define the final positions and especially for ourselves, we believe there is nothing better than a good game to improve and get better,” said Spain coach Sergio Scariolo. “This was our motivation. Everybody gave something. We get to the point with the do-or-die competition starts. We know we start from zero but it’s better to get there in the right way.”
France’s coach, Vincent Collet, defended his position. He cited Noah’s calf injury and that the team doctors asked him to sit the 7-footer. He said Parker was worn out after the last “couple of games” and he simply decided to give him a rest. “We know that whatever happened tonight would not change a lot,” Collet said. “We want to be ready for the Quarter-Final. We are not so deep as Spain is and we wanted Tony to be fresh. Our goal is to go to the Olympics. You can reproach what you want.”
Spain’s depth was on full display in this one, with Rudy Fernandez stealing some of the spotlight from the Gasol brothers and “The Stockbroker” (Juan Carlos Navarro) by scoring 13 of his 15 points during that third-quarter blitz. He also dished out six assists, grabbed four rebounds and recorded three steals. Navarro did drain all four of his 3-pointers before halftime and finished with 16 points.
Lithuania 84, Germany 75 (Box Score)
After Friday’s loss to France, Lithuania coach Kestutis Kemzura made a promise to an entire nation. “We are not going to leave the tournament on Sunday night,” he said. “We are going to win.” On Sunday night his team delivered on that promise, knocking off Germany and securing their place in the quarterfinals behind the work of their stars, both young and a little bit older. Rimantas Kaukenas led the way with 19 points. Sarunas Jasikevicius (17 points, four rebounds and four assists) and Jonas Valanciunas (15 points, four rebounds and two blocks) helped balance the attack.
“I’m proud of my team. They handled the pressure well as this was a live-or-die game for us,” Kemzura said after it was over. “We knew the German team was tough and that they had great players. My team did an excellent job on Dirk Nowitzki. We wore him down.”
This defeat knocks Germany out of the competition and the London Olympics next summer, meaning Dirk Nowitzki won’t be on display in the world’s biggest competition next summer. Nowitzki leaves this stage without adding another significant career milestone to his haul this year — he already snagged The Finals MVP trophy and Larry O’Brien Trophy that came with the Dallas Mavericks’ 2011 NBA title. His 967 points in EuroBasket competitions is 27 shy of the all-time scoring record held by Greek legend Nikos Galis. Nowitzki finished Sunday’s game with 16 points, on 4-for-17 shooting, and nine rebounds.
Nowitzki’s biggest disappointment, however, is not being able to muster enough to help deliver his teammates to the Olympics. “Overall, I don’t feel I was in the kind of shape I needed to be in here,” he told British basketball scribe and HT fave Mark Woods after the game. “I don’t feel I really played a good tournament for us. I missed a lot of shots. Even today, in the fourth quarter, it was a tight game and I had two or three looks that I have got to make.”
Chris Kaman showed off NBA All-Star form in his final outing of the competition, leading Germany with 25 points and 11 rebounds in a losing effort.