European Championships, Day 3
Great week for Slovenia, not so much for Britain.
Our final day from the Torwar Arena – we only planned this as a short break, and it worked out well for us as the British team limped out with a lackluster display and a 59-77 defeat. Nenad Krstic and Milenko Tepic led the Serbs with 17 points each while the British had 21 points from guard Nate Reinking and 16 points from Pops Mensah-Bonsu but unfortunately, not much else.
Further evidence of Slovenia’s fan domination was that the two games were flip-flopped so that Slovenia-Spain could start early, allowing the Slovenia fans to leave after the game and find a bar where they could watch the Slovenia-Poland soccer match. Slovenia’s win in the soccer match topped a great week for them, adding to their success in this group. The only black mark for them was losing tonight’s game, but even then, they managed to push the Spanish to overtime (to the dismay of the Slovenians who wanted to leave in order to watch the soccer!!).
Some controversial calls in overtime allowed the Spanish to escape with the victory that ensured their own progress in the tournament, but they must be concerned that they almost allowed this game to slip after having dominated for three quarters. Spain was led by Navarro’s 21 points, while Rudy added 19. Rubio finished with 9 points, 5 turnovers, 2 assists and 3 steals. The Slovenians were led by 19 points from Goran Dragic, who also added 6 steals.
Dragic was interesting to observe, and our Slovenian friends told us that he’s a vital energizer for their team. He was given the reins at times in the Spain game, but generally in the tournament played more of a shooting guard role while Jaka Lakovic ran the offense. Dragic had a useful knack of making big plays at the right times though, such as a big block on a weak Rubio drive. But he also made careless mistakes that he’ll need to cut out. While we didn’t see much of Dragic’s outside shot, his drives were decisive and strong, and he seemed to be a tenacious defender.
I didn’t feel like he stamped his authority on the group, but it’d also be fair to say that Rubio didn’t, either. It was difficult to assess Ricky on the back of these three games – he seems to be running the Spanish team these days, although that may be due to Calderon’s absence. We also didn’t see much of his outside shooting, so it was hard to assess the “no jumpshot” criticism. He made a few wayward passes, lobs to Rudy Fernandez or Pau Gasol which were not quite where they needed to be. I have to be honest, I’m a big fan of Ricky’s, and I saw his play in this tournament as being complacent, typical of the whole Spanish attitude toward this group. I didn’t see his mistakes as being big deficiencies in his game, I saw them more as a combination of arrogance and rustiness, but it remains to be seen how he does in the rest of the tournament.
Elsewhere on the Spanish team, Pau was certainly dominant and showed himself as one of the game’s elite players. He whined a bit about the physical play in this group, and he showed the range of his jumpshot. Brother Marc was a more interesting case to report – he looked very weak offensively, although he was a monster defensively and on the boards. The Spanish team looked for him a lot in the post, even when Slovenia showed them the double-team and he lost the ball in traffic on a few occasions. My guess would be that the Spanish coaches were trying to give him some “live” experience of having an offense run through him, but I was surprised to learn that he averaged 11.9 ppg for Memphis last year. He really didn’t look comfortable here, often passing out of open lanes.
After sitting for the first match, Rudy was very energetic in the other two games, clearly a level above everyone else on the court in terms of athleticism. His shooting was a little off though, and he missed a crucial free throw during Slovenia’s late comeback. Navarro was playing a shooting guard role for Spain, and I’m not really sure if he’s a good enough shooter for that job.
Victor Claver got a DNP tonight, despite trying to check-in midway through the 3rd quarter – it seemed to be a strange decision by the coach. From the previous two games, he seems like another very energetic guy who needs to learn to calm down and make sensible plays. Jose Garbajosa sat again tonight (in a ridiculous red tracksuit); his contribution on Monday night indicated that he’s probably not yet ready to return to the NBA as he missed numerous shots and failed to chase his man through screens. Of the other Spaniards, I’m always impressed by Felipe Reyes, a 6-9 power forward with nice range – unfortunately, he’s already 29 years old.
For Slovenia, Erazem Lorbek continued to impress, hitting the game-tying buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime. Tonight he had just 8 points to go with his 10 boards, but in the previous two games he scored well. He’s a very solid player at this level, and only 25 years old. Indiana picked up his draft rights back in 2005, and he could yet develop into a good player for them. Primoz Brezec helped to inspire the team, and even hit a couple of three-pointers today. He was, however, on the bench as the Slovenians rallied, with the fast pace of the game perhaps not suiting him. Boki Nachbar still brings a lot of energy to his team, but shot just 5-14 today and might not have done enough to have the NBA teams knocking on his door over the next couple of months.
Serbia’s only NBA player, Nenad Krstic, did a good job for his team. Milenko Tepic stood out as a young shooting-guard – 6-8 and only 22, he scored double-digits in every game. Novica Velickovic failed to impress in the second and third games after a strong showing against Spain, but hopefully he will show more as they progress in the tournament. Kosta Perovic failed to show much more than being a stereotypical European 7-footer.
For Britain, Pops Mensah-Bonsu was our main focus. He didn’t have the greatest tournament, typified by a turnover where he bounced it off his own foot in the backcourt, and then failed to chase back on defense, allowing the Serbs to score an easy bucket. He was clearly one of the more athletic players on show, and his defending was tenacious, but he should be advised to stick to what he’s good at (which is not dribbling, or mid-range jumpers). One-time Portland draftee Joel Freeland was under-used, and showed some nice touches before picking up a back injury in the last game. The British guards showed more as the tournament progressed, though not enough to excite NBA scouts, and Robbie Archibald, who had a brief spell in the NBA a few years ago, was another British highlight, but we desperately missed Luol Deng in this tournament.
Our thanks to Poland’s capital, Warsaw, for looking after us – it’s a lovely city and we were pleasantly surprised, as it’s not often talked of as a tourist destination. Polish chicks are hot too, the cheerleaders managing to sustain my interest as my dissatisfaction with the British team increased. The halftime entertainment left a bit to be desired though – we saw the same set of advertisements six times, and there’s only so much you can take of Andrew Bogut inviting you to join him at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey 2010 (I might go, but I doubt I’ll be there as a British fan…). Couldn’t they have at least fired a few t-shirts into the crowd, or made a mascot shoot some half-court shots, or forced the cute cheerleaders to do some more dancing?
Also, despite enjoying the Slovenian fans’ enthusiasm, I will never understand the fascination with constantly blowing horns – they are loud and irritating and may serve to distract the opposition but they are LOUD AND IRRITATING! But these are only minor complaints. Good luck to our Slavic friends, and I hope the Spanish manage to find their extra gear, otherwise they’re heading for an early exit and a continuation of their poor Eurobasket record.