Monday Nite Recap: (CRO-RUS; GRE-GER)
CROATIA 85, RUSSIA 78:
Croatia continues its strong play this summer with a tough victory vs. the defending Euro Champs. (This outcome is not surprising, a very mild upset at best). Kept up their physical defense that worked wonders vs. Germany & kept up their patented outside shooting ways.
Croatia's main objective is to free its guards with high pick/roll, and they worked that action very well tonite. Marko Popovic used the screens to get off his deft jumpers, while Z. Planinic looked to get into the lane, but also hit some jumpers as well.
Popovic led with 22 pts (3/7 from 3pt), including a big 3pt. after he reversed back off a high pick/roll midway thru the 4th. Former NJ Net Planinic actually came off the bench to shoot 7/9 for 20 points.
New Raptor Roko Ukic even had his jumper working (not something he's known for). The FIBA boxscore said he had only made 2 fgs, but I could have sworn he hit three long jumpers. But this is something you get used to over the years--FIBA stat-keeping is notoriously uneven. Ukic hit a big pull-up 3pt not long after Popovic's big 4th quarter 3pt. Stanko-nia Barac played well off the pick/roll by sinking a few elbow jumpers, and finished with 12 & 7 rebs.
We mentioned before that Croatia's defense has taken huge strides in the last few years, and think they are consistent enough to be on par with elites like Greece, Spain & Russia. Russia could not get many easy looks in the lane. Croatia always had a big waiting, sloughed off in the painted area for help. Croatia's weakside help seemed to be in the right spots, not afraid to wander off the Russians, which is smart gameplanning.
Vik Khyrapa hit some jumpers don the stretch, and finished with four 3pters, but he really did not look like the same all-around, active Khyrapa we saw last summer. Even though Kirilenko had 18 pts, never thought he got into a great rhythm thanks to Croatia. Sergei Bykov gave Russia a great boost off the bench with his speed & outside shooting.
Would not stun me if Croatia were to win Group A. Their defense is on par with the elites, their guards can burn you from deep & Planinic is crafty with his dribble. The bigs are solid & tough, able defenders in the interior & all hit the glass. Prkacin can get you some low-box points, and Stanko-nia, Loncar, & Nicevic can hit from the elbow & are effective in pick/roll. They nearly beat Lithuania last year, and can probably neutralize their perimeter play & shooting. And they might have better depth on the frontline to give Argentina problems & foul issues.
GREECE 87, GERMANY 64:
This game was a little bit better representation of what Greece is capable of. Spain has a way of making Greece look uncharacteristically bad--they did it in '06 after Greece played solid in every other game at the Worlds. Greece looked like its normal self on the defensive end by denying Germany many good looks in the interior, and holding Germ. to 41 points thru the last 3 quarters.
Germany started the game with 5 TOs in the first four minutes, when they finally started taking care of the ball, it usually ended with a made 3pt--5/7 from 3pt in the 1st quarter. Thought the Greeks thoroughly outplayed Germ. in the 1st quarter but Deutschland stuck around strictly because of their deep shooting.
Germany's offense just collapsed in the 2nd quarter. Some of it had to do with Greece's defense, but thought Germany just lost discipline and started to rush some shots up. The only thing that kept them hanging around was some nice 3pt shooting--9 of their 10 2nd quarter points came from 3pts, 24 of their 33 1st half points came from deep. Also, Germany hung around because their 2x3 zone was giving Greece some issues early in the 2nd. Thought the Germans should have stuck with the zone at little longer.
Greece never let Dirk get off. They would send some doubles, usually when Dirk was into his moves. Dirk only got 8 shots up from the field. And Germany's prospects were not helped any by Kaman playing like a pile-o-poo. He rushed a few of his shots, but worst of all Kaman felt the need to show off his ball-handling ability which usually ended up with poor results. Kaman must have turned the ball over at 3-4 times from overhandling the ball. Maybe the only positive for Germany was their role-playing shooters did their job: Schultze, Greene & Roller hit multiple 3pts.
The 3-headed point guard monster returned for Greece tonite. Better ball movement that was reminiscent of their play in Athens last month. Papaloukas & Diamantidis looked to have their creative juices back & Spanoulis continues to be super-aggressive--23 pts & 5 assts for the former Rocket. Spanoulis hit some set jumpers, but he's just so much more dangerous pulling up off the bounce. Greece burned Germany at least four times on out-o-bounds plays. Defensive stalwart Kostas Tsartsaris, plus A. Fotsis, did an solid job of checking Dirk & neutralizing Germany's height advantage. Slightly surprisingly, Greece beat Germany on the glass, 33-26.