Commentary

Spain turns on the power, Greece covers and Russia smothers

Originally Published: September 11, 2007
By Chris Sheridan | ESPN.com

MADRID, Spain -- Here's a detailed look at what happened in the three games Tuesday at Eurobasket, with the six teams from Group E playing their final games of the second round.

The six teams in Group F will do the same Wednesday, and then the tournament will get hairy as it moves into the quarterfinals and the format switches to single-elimination.

The winners of the quarterfinals will meet in the semifinals on Saturday, when two Olympic berths will be at stake. And if Spain is one of the two teams to make it to the finals, the third-place game on Sunday will be significant because the winner will advance to Beijing.

Pepu Hernandez and Rudy Fernandez
Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty ImagesCoach Pepu Hernandez of Spain gives instructions to Rudy Fernandez during their team's win over Israel.
Spain 99, Israel 73

Jorge Garbajosa insists his leg feels perfectly fine. He could have said the same thing about his shooting touch.

Garbajosa knocked down four 3-pointers to account for all 12 of his points, Pau Gasol scored 26 points and the reigning world champions overcame a terrible start against an Israeli team fighting for its tournament life.

With the game holding little meaning for Spain, coach Pepu Hernandez went with a new starting backcourt of Sergio Rodriguez and Bernie Rodriguez instead of the usual duo of Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro. But the change backfired on the Spaniards, and Sergio got off to a particularly bad start (0-for-4, two turnovers) as Israel jumped out to an early 13-point lead and was still ahead by one point at halftime.

"The good news was that the team was able to react to a situation where they were giving us difficulty, and the important thing was that the team was relatively calm on the court," Hernandez said.

Garbajosa's 3-pointer midway through the third quarter gave Spain the lead for good and began a 39-13 run that turned a close game into a rout. Calderon came off the bench and steadied the Spanish team, finishing with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting, while Navarro sat out to rest a strained leg muscle.

Hernandez insisted Navarro's injury was not serious.

Garbajosa, who is recovering from a broken leg and did not receive clearance from the Toronto Raptors to play until the eve of the tournament, said the injury was giving him no problems.

"I wouldn't have come here if I didn't think I would be ready. My leg is fine, it hasn't given me any problems whatsoever, and I hope it continues that way the whole tournament. You can always feel better when you're coming off an injury, but I feel good."

Spain finished atop Group E (winning a tiebreaker with Russia) and will face the winner of Wednesday's Italy-Germany game in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Russia 83, Croatia 70

The stat monitors at FIBA games are light-years ahead of the ones used at NBA games. One of the neat features on the monitors over here shows where on the court each basket was made each quarter, and at the end of the fourth period it showed seven green dots underneath the basket and four green dots outside the 3-point line.

Scoring only on dunks, layups and 3s, it really was a clinic the Russians put on over the final 10 minutes after they led just 60-56 at the end of the third, and coach David Blatt (an American) was about as effusive in his praise of his team as I've ever heard any coach, anywhere, anytime.

"First of all I want to thank my players for the way they played and the way they behaved today. There was every reason for them to come out without an overly motivated attitude, for them to come out and pass the time on a beautiful fall day here in Madrid, because the significance of the game was not that great," he said.

"But my players decided to come out and play to win, because we just got beat by Spain two days ago, and we've tried to create an attitude on this team that we come to play hard, to play together, to play to win and to have fun. And I thought after a slow beginning, when everyone was in their Spanish siesta until about 5:15 p.m., we woke up -- and we played a beautiful second half, one of our better halves in the tournament. And I think if you want to win in the next round of games, you have to play right -- and we did play right. So I really commend my guys for their mentality, their gamesmanship and for their winning attitude."

Russia will face France in the quarterfinals, hoping to avoid a repeat of a match the teams played last month in Paris in which the French team destroyed the Russian squad by 36 points.

Andrei Kirilenko led Russia with 20 points, and eight other players scored for Russia as Blatt lengthened rather than shortened his rotation at the behest of his assistant coaches after using only eight players in a loss to Spain on Sunday.

For Croatia, I liked what I saw from 7-foot-1 center Stanko Barac, who was drafted 39th last June by the Miami Heat, and then traded to the Indiana Pacers. The kid has great hands, passes well, plays smart and can shoot. If he gets himself into the weight room, he has a promising NBA future.

Greece 85, Portugal 67

Miguel Miranda
Lars Baron/Bongarts/Getty ImagesPortugal's Miguel Miranda cannot be consoled by Elvis Evora during their team's loss to Greece.
I'll spare you're the details of this mismatch, which Tim Warren of the Washington Post (the only American newspaper writer covering this tournament) described as "like having dental surgery without anesthesia" -- and that's a mouthful coming from Tim, who is passionate in his love of European basketball.

I watched this game sitting next to a Greek journalist, whose identity I will keep confidential. I'll just call him "Socrates," because the guy was a font of knowledge and wisdom on all matters relating to Greek basketball.

Socrates explained to me how Dimitrios Diamantidis, who was the MVP of last season's Euroleague final four, has a deep disdain for NBA basketball and will never come over to America to play. He also regaled me with stories of how Vassilis Spanoulis gets borderline violent at the very mention of Jeff Van Gundy's name (Spanoulis makes the all-Euro JVG Haters team along with Mirsad Turkcan, Fabricio Oberto, Bostjan Nachbar and Frederic Weis), and how Antonio Fotsis broke his right thumb by banging it against the rim in Greece's final warmup game.

Then a strange thing happened. With Greece ahead 83-66 with 9 seconds left, Greece's Nikolas Chatzivrettas intentionally fouled a Portuguese player in the backcourt.

"What the heck was that for?" I asked. To which Socrates replied: "The line on this game is 14½, and he doesn't want Portugal to come down and hit a 3." Gotta protect the bettors back home, I guess.

One more story, also involving the Greeks:

I went to an Irish pub last night after writing about J.R. Holden and joined a table of two Lithuanians and five Greeks, one of whom is a fairly high-profile coach back in Hellas. Turns out the coach is close friends with Nikolaos Zavlanos, the FIBA referee that Team USA hired and brought to Las Vegas to officiate its scrimmages prior to the Tournament of the Americas. Small world, eh?

Oh, and one more thing: The Greece-Portugal game featured the first Eurobasket sighting of NBA superfan Jimmy Goldstein.

Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

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