by Jeremy Bauman / @JBauman13
The elimination rounds have begun in the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey and the competition is really starting to heat up. What makes this competition so great is that in a first round game like Greece vs. Spain that took place today, either one of those teams is capable of making a run in this tournament but one of them had to pack its things and go home. Below is a recap of the day’s events in Turkey.
Serbia and Croatia faced off in the first game of the elimination round and what a game it was. In a very competitive match-up each team saw great contributions from its starters and bench players alike. Serbian Nenad Kristic (16 points, 3 rebounds) got off to a quick start in the lane with dunks and spin moves for easy points while his teammate Nemanja Bjelica (3 points) got it going from outside with a three (he was quiet the rest of the game). For the Croatians the young prospect Bojan Bogdanovic (9 points, 3 boards) got going with a three early and a few nice takes to the rim. Ante Tomic (6 points, 8 boards, 5 turnovers) had a tough time scoring the ball against Kristic inside but Croatia held a steady lead of 6-8 points for most of the first half thanks to their forceful rebounding on the offensive end (13-7 edge in this department for the game) by Marko Thomas (6 points, 6 boards) and the entire team’s ability to convert after rebounding. For Serbia, Kosta Perovic (10 points, 3 boards) was huge off the bench in the pick-and-roll which led to easy opportunities for Serbia in the lane, helping to keep them in the game. They went into the locker room with a 36-34 lead, which they couldn’t have been happy with considering how well they had played.
In the second half Serbia took the lead early on a three-pointer by Aleksander Rasic (15 points, 3 assists, 2 steals). Kristic battled inside on offense in the third which led to Croatia’s prized big Ante Tomic picking up 2 quick fouls early in the second half (3 overall) forcing him to sit down. The Serbs crashed the boards harder and took advantage of Tomic being out of the game but Kresimir Loncar (9 points, 2 boards) did his best to keep the Croatians in the game the whole third quarter by battling inside, hustling on both ends and knocking down a midrange shot or two. Tomic came back in for the final few minutes of the third but Serbia’s Milos Teodosic (3 points, 4 steals, 4 turnovers) hit a three and Milan Macvan (8 points) scored a bucket inside in transition to extend their lead to 4 going into the 4th.
It was neck and neck the first four minutes of the fourth quarter until the Serbs got it going offensively with an and one to extend the lead to 7 points with 6 minutes to play but the sharpshooting sparkplug Marko Popovic (21 points, 5 assists, 5 boards, 2 steals) answered with a 3 to keep his team in the contest at the other end. A moment later Milan Macvan hit a three to extend the lead back to 7 (after Croatia missed several easy opportunities inside) but Popovic kept his team in the game with yet another three after a 2-minute scoring drought to bring the Croatians within 4 again at 64-60. The Serbians missed some free throw opportunities which helped to keep Croatia in the game and after a beautiful drive-and-dish by point guard Roko Ukic (11 points, 4 assists, 4 boards) to Marko Banic brought Croatia within two. Kristic hit 1-2 free throws on other end to extend lead to three but the relentless Popovic drove, got fouled and hit both shots at line to make it 68-67 Serbia with 21 seconds left. Rasic hit 2 FTs to extend the lead to 70-67. Popovic created yet another foul and hit another two FTs. Croatia pressured Serbia and Marko Tomas came up with a steal, passed to Popovic who got fouled again. Missed the first, made the second to tie the game.
Out of a timeout Serbia ran a perfect inbounds play from midcourt that started in a diamond. After a simple screen at midcourt one player was wide open and streaking to the hoop for an all too easy layup for the two point advantage. The Croatians were undone with this play but inexplicably fouled on their possession at midcourt with 5.9 seconds left. Popovic knocked down his FTs again (8-10 at the line) but on the ensuing possession Croatia was whistled for a very questionable foul with 1 second remaining on a drive to the basket by Aleksander Rasic, who went to the line, knocked down the first calmly and missed the second on purpose to all but secure the win in a very dramatic knockout round affair.