HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The quarterfinal round got off to an explosive (and rousing, for one country) start Wednesday, thanks to our friends from Macedonia …
(NBA.com’s John Schuhmann recapped Wednesday’s first game, Spain’s 86-64 win over Slovenia, below.)
Macedonia 67, Lithuania 65 (Box Score)
Vlado Ilievski‘s 3-pointer (off an assist from Bo McCalebb) with 11 seconds left pushed Macedonia ahead and they held on to pull off one of the most shocking upsets in EuroBasket history, knocking off host nation Lithuania before a raucous crowd in a hostile environment. Ilievski (12 points) and McCalebb (23 points) had plenty of company in the heroes corner in the Macedonia locker room after the game. Vojdan Stojanovski who didn’t miss a single shot, he was 5-for-5 from beyond the 3-point line, finishing with 15 points.
“This is a huge win for us. We are very happy,” Stojanovksi said. “I think we played very well and we deserved this win. I have to thank our playmakers because they put me in a position to have open shots. I was confident of making them. Spain will be a tough team but we have proved that we can beat good teams in this tournament.”
Macedonia scraped back from an early 17-10 deficit, clawing their way to within a basket before the end of the first quarter and things went back and forth until the end of the contest. Ilievski’s late 3-pointer came after a critical Lithuania turnover on it previous possession. Lithuania’s Simas Jasaitis missed a potential game-winning jumper and Pero Antic grabbed the rebound and found Ilievski, who drew a foul and knocked down one of the two free throws.
Something of a basketball Cinderella story at the start of this competition, Macedonia has continually outplayed the opposition to make their first ever trip to the EuroBasket semifinals. McCalebb has been an unstoppable force, even when he’s not making shots at a high percentage. And they won this game without one of their top players, Todor Gechevski, who was out with a broken hand.
“I think we showed that we are one of the best teams in Europe even though many thought our run was down to luck,” said Macedonia coach Marin Dokuzovski. “We deserve to be here. We played without pressure, we played very free and with great tempo.”
If any team at this stage of the competition was going to stare down the host nation team in this sort of pressure-packed environment (it was complete with security officers surrounding the Macedonia contingent in the crowd), it was the upstart crew from Macedonia.
“Congratulations to F.Y.R Macedonia. They did a great job. They made important shots at the end,” said Lithuania coach Kestutis Kemzura. “They played smart, right and good. Our problem was rebounding during the whole game. When it’s a close game and you get to the end, a shot can decide the game as was the case. It’s a huge disappointment for us but we have to show character. Our European Championship is not finished.”
Next up on Macedonia’s historic march through this competition is a semifinal date with the defending champions from …
Spain 86, Slovenia 64 (Box Score)
Slovenia gave Spain a scare early on, leading 23-16 after the first quarter. It was almost a 10-point lead, but Samo Udrih‘s three came just after the first-quarter buzzer.
Spain then shut down the Slovenia offense in the second quarter to take a four-point lead into halftime. And then their own offense exploded in the third. Spain shot 14-for-18 from the field, including 7-for-10 from 3-point range, in the third to put the game away.
The onslaught started with Juan Carlos Navarro coming off screens and Pau Gasol in the post. That opened things up on the perimeter, from where Navarro and Rudy Fernandez rained threes.
But as unstoppable the Spanish offense was in the third quarter, it was the Spanish defense that really changed the game in the second. With their second unit on the floor and Ricky Rubio and Fernandez using their quickness on the perimeter, Spain went to an aggressive zone that didn’t allow Slovenia a single good look at the basket.
After scoring 23 point in the first 10 minutes, Slovenia scored just nine over the next 13. Their only buckets in the first 9:14 of the second quarter were a follow dunk by Mirza Begic and a three by Matjaz Smodis that came when Spain was playing man-to-man on a baseline out-of-bounds play. They were getting absolutely nothing from their initial offense.
- Navarro led all scorers with 26 points on 11-for-16 from the field. He committed four turnovers in the first quarter, but none after that. Slovenia did a terrible job of containing him off the high screen and he had his trademarked runner falling early and often.
- Pau Gasol shot just 6-for-17, but finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds, three blocks and two steals.
- Rubio didn’t score a point and played just 14 minutes, but his aggressive defense absolutely made a difference in the second quarter.
- Goran Dragic led Slovenia with 14 points, but his backcourt-mate, Jaka Lakovic, struggled. Lakovic hit a three early in the first quarter, but those were the only points he scored all game.
- The Slovenian frontline of Begic and Erazem Lorbek were outplaying the Gasol brothers early, scoring 13 of Slovenia’s first 20 points. But they scored just four points after that.
*** Slovenia and Lithuania will battle it out Thursday to stay in the competition and secure a top six finish, which secures and invitation to next July’s Olympic qualifying tournament. ***
Thursday’s Quarterfinal Action:
Greece vs. France
Russia vs. Serbia