HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Thursday was a big day in FIBA qualifications, with the second round of FIBA Americas getting started and Day 2 at Eurobasket seeing a thrilling upset.
Down goes Spain
The story of the day was Slovenia coming back from 10 points down to beat Eurobasket favorite Spain. The Suns’ Goran Dragic led the way for the tournament’s hosts, registering 18 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two steals.
The game was more important for Slovenia, who now looks like a strong candidate to earn one of Europe’s six automatic berths to next year’s World Cup, than Spain. The two-time defending Euro champs have finished first (2011 Eurobasket, 2009 Eurobasket, 2006 World Championship) or second (2012 Olympics, 2008 Olympics, 2007 Eurobasket) in six of their last seven international competitions (the exception being the 2010 World Championship), despite losing preliminary-round games in almost all of them.
But there wasn’t any clear gamesmanship on Spain’s part. Marc Gasol played all but three minutes on Thursday.
Down to the wire
Slovenia-Spain was a great game, and it wasn’t the only thriller on Thursday. Latvia edged Montenegro on a jumper by Kristaps Janicenoks in the final seconds, Croatia beat Georgia on a Ante Tomic, pick-and-roll layup, and Belgium outlasted Germany in overtime.
The ends of these FIBA games can be really fun, because there are fewer timeouts in the final possessions. You’re not allowed to call a timeout on a live ball.
What happened to Turkey?
As someone who witnessed Turkey’s magical run to the 2010 World Championship gold medal game first-hand, it’s disappointing to see how much they’ve fallen off. They’ve been a mess offensively without long-time point guard Kerem Tunceri (whose absence on the roster was the coach’s decision, according to my Turkish friends on twitter) and with Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova combining to shoot 11-for-38 (29 percent).
More disappointing is the Turkish defense, which was dominant in 2010 and has allowed about 108 points per 100 possessions in their two games this week. With their size, they can extend their 2-3 zone out beyond the 3-point line, but they didn’t really go to it until the third quarter on Thursday. And when they did, Italy just picked it apart.
The good news for Turkey is that Hedo’s tan looks fabulous.
Greece back on top
The bad news for Turkey is that, after a day off, they next face Greece, who has the tournament’s best point differential after two games. Greece had a couple of down years (they didn’t qualify for last year’s Olympics), but has looked strong in wins over Sweden and Russia.
Greece is one of seven unbeaten teams. The most surprising of the seven has to be Finland, who has been led by former first-round pick Petteri Koponen. Also unbeaten is the Ukraine, coached by TNT’s Mike Fratello.
Big wins for Canada, Puerto Rico
While Spain can brush off Thursday’s loss, every game at the FIBA Americas tournament is critical right now, because the top four teams after this round of games will earn the automatic bids to next year’s World Cup of Basketball.
So Canada’s 89-67 win over Mexico, putting them in second place with three games to play, was huge. The Spurs’ Cory Joseph, now averaging 16.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists, has been one of the best players in the tournament.
Also big was Puerto Rico’s win over Argentina. Puerto Rico trailed by 16 midway through the second quarter, but came back and took control with a 13-0 run late in the third. They haven’t clinched a top-four spot just yet, but as the only undefeated team in the tournament, they’re in great shape.
Former Knick and Nugget Renaldo Balkman has been huge for P.R., averaging 20.6 points and 8.4 boards through five games.
Action in FIBA Americas and Eurobasket continues Friday.
2014 World Cup of Basketball field
|2||USA||2012 Olympic champion|
|3||Iran||FIBA Asia champion|
|4||Philippines||FIBA Asia 2nd place|
|5||Korea||FIBA Asia 3rd place|
|6||Australia||FIBA Oceania champion|
|7||New Zealand||FIBA Oceania 2nd place|
|8||Angola||FIBA Africa champion|
|9||Egypt||FIBA Africa 2nd place|
|10||Senegal||FIBA Africa 3rd place|
|11||FIBA Americas champion|
|12||FIBA Americas 2nd place|
|13||FIBA Americas 3rd place|
|14||FIBA Americas 4th place|
|16||Eurobasket 2nd place*|
|17||Eurobasket 3rd place*|
|18||Eurobasket 4th place*|
|19||Eurobasket 5th place*|
|20||Eurobasket 6th place*|
* If Spain finishes in the top six, the seventh place team will qualify.