LONDON – Russia and Spain will square off in one Olympic semifinal, both of them having survived in quarterfinal action North Greenwich Arena Wednesday.
Russia survived a late Lithuania rally and held on for an 83-74 win behind Andrei Kirilenko‘s 19 points and 13 rebounds and some clutch shooting late from captain Sergey Monya. They led five players in double digits for Russia, which finished first in pool play from Group B.
“Sergey Monya, our captain, is the face of everything we do, the face of Russia,” said Russia’s coach David Blatt. “He has played in every game for Russia in the seven years I have been with the team. He came up the biggest at the right time. He made the two biggest shots of the game and maybe of our career together.”
Spain had to survive France and some late-game licks to advance. They closed the game on a 12-2 run and won 66-59 to set up Friday’s semifinal matchup against Russia.
Nicolas Batum took a nasty swing at Juan Carlos Navarro, balling up his fist and swinging below the belt with 24 seconds to play. His frustration boiled over after his team’s inability to finish with a flourish, the loss itself and Spain’s “flopping” as France exited the competition before the medal round.
It was the second or third such incident of the competition, with Chris Paul of the U.S. and Facundo Campazzo of Argentina both taking swings (or at least Paul was accused of taking one) during their last pool play game Monday night.
“I just wanted to give him a good reason to flop,” an unapologetic Batum said after the game. He was called for an unsportmanlike foul but wasn’t ejected from the game. And as players from both sides shook hands, Batum was in the middle of the mix without incident.
He objected to Spain’s tactics afterwards, though, insisting that he Spaniards resorted to acting late with the game on the line.
“That’s not basketball,” he said, haven taken particular offense to the reaction of Rudy Fernandez after he was fouled by Ronny Turiaf in front of the scorer’s table moments earlier. “Sometimes, you have to give them a good reason to flop. And I hope I did.”
The directive was simple for the Slovenia, win or go home. They did exactly what had to be done against Finland, aesthetics be darned. Sure, it wasn’t one of the prettier games played in this competition. But it was a win. And those have been tough to come by for Slovenia lately. Uros Slokar turned in a near-flawless effort off the bench with 13 points, eight rebounds and no turnovers in 22 minutes to spark Slovenia. Erazem Lorbek (14 points and six rebounds) and Zoran Dragic (10 points and four rebounds) delivered as well.
“Before the game we just told ourselves to relax and think how we can enjoy the game again,” Slokar said. “Go on the floor and try to be more relaxed. I think that’s something we managed to do. Finland played good but we kept them on a low score and that’s the key for our wins. Spain is favorite against any team in this tournament, but our goals are different than theirs. We will try to win and give 100 percent to win. If that would be enough it’s great, and if not we’re still going to be happy with the result because we gave 100 percent.”
With the win Slovenia earned a date against defending champion Spain, winners of Group E. So the challenge for Slovenia remains. And they’ll have to stay focused the entire way to have a chance against Spain, something they struggled to do against Finland. It took six straight points from Lorbek to hold off a Finland rally in the fourth quarter.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With the initial phase of EuroBasket 2011 in the books it’s time to cast an eye toward the start of the second round, which kicks off Wednesday, and take a quick look back at some of the highlights and highlight-makers from preliminary play.
We’ve gone from four groups of six to two groups of six for the second round:
A couple of serious contenders are going to be sent packing in Group E, since only the top four teams advance to the quarterfinals. There are a couple of surprise teams in Group F, so there is still a chance that a Macedonia or Finland crashes the championship round.
As you can probably tell, group play results actually matter in this tournament (the results of games against teams that have made it this far are reflected in the records above).
Germany-Spain, Turkey-France and Serbia-Lithuania highlight Wednesday’s action while Georgia-Macedonia, Finland-Russia and Slovenia-Greece will be on center stage Thursday.
In order to make it this far, though, these 12 remaining teams had to grind through a rugged field of 24 to get here. And we’ve got a few awards (team and individual, you know how we do it here at the hideout) that need to be handed out before we move on:
Group Play MVP:Tony Parker, France. A point guard was walking away with this award. It was either Parker or Serbia’s Milos Teodosic, who has quickly earned HT fave status for his magnificent play in this competition. Parker has been the driving force behind the team playing the best, to this point, in the competition. And he’s showing off his all-around game, the one he rarely gets credit for while working his regular job. For those of us who have watched Parker mature over the years, from the young teenage point guard project the San Antonio Spurs drafted years ago to the Finals MVP and dynamic floor general he has become, his performance here should not be a revelation. Still, we will give him his just due. He’s performed better than anyone else in this tournament.
Most Surprising Team Headed Into The Next Round:Macedonia. We’ve been talking about Bo McCalebb, Pero Antic and F.D.R. Macedonia since before they got on that roll and reeled off three straight wins to secure their spot in this round (they finished it off with a fourth straight win Sunday over Bosnia and Herzegovina). Before the competition began we quizzed a coach and player from another team before the competition to find out the players and teams we should be aware of and no one from Macedonia was so much as mentioned. We’re going to expand our interview list next time around.
Most Surprising Not Headed Into The Next Round:Croatia. Needing a win over Greece Sunday to get through to the next round, Croatia simply couldn’t dial-up the right performance when they needed it most. More was expected out of this crew with Bojan Bogdanovich and Ante Tomic leading the way, a team with rich tradition and top six finishes in EuroBasket 2009 and 2007. Instead, they finished play in Group C with a 2-3 record and are now left to watch the London Olympics from the crowd like the rest of us.
Hate To See You Leave:Luol Deng and Great Britain won’t be sticking around for this next phase. And that’s too bad, because Deng made a strong case of his own for Group Play MVP honors. His 28 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in Sunday’s win over Poland turned out to be a fitting going away present. The good thing is we’ll see him in London next summer anyway, since the host nation team already has its bid for the Olympics locked up.
Moving On By The Skin Of Their Teeth:Turkey. They needed a win from Great Britain over Poland Sunday to secure their ticket to the second round. It’s not like they didn’t help themselves with that huge win over previously unbeaten and defending champion Spain earlier today. They obviously needed that win as well to make it here. But with Great Britain’s up and down performances in this competition, there was no guarantee that they’d provide the assist Turkey needed.
Parker had a chance to end this one in regulation but missed an 18-foot fadeaway at the buzzer. Serbia went up 96-95 on Marko Keselj 3-pointer with 24 seconds left in overtime. But instead of playing straight defense to try to finish the game, Serbia fouled Parker (to make sure they got the ball back). He drained both free throws with 19 seconds left for a 97-96 lead. The plan worked to perfection until Dusko Savanovic, wide open on the left block with four seconds to play, missed an easy bank shot that would have won the game.
As my main man John Schuhmann reminded me tonight, five of Serbia’s nine games in last year’s World Championship in Turkey were decided by three points or less. You’re almost guaranteed a thriller when they hit the floor in a competition like this.
The best part, we’ll see Serbia (and 11 other quality teams) again in the second round.