Finals - Gold Medal Game
Greece 78 vs Germany 62
Greece's magical run continued yesterday with a defence-laden 78-62 win over Dirk Nowitzki's German squad. Using tough defensive sets, great coaching, and 22 points from Theo Papaloukas, the Greek team won convincingly. Germany shot only 3 of 16 from beyond the arc and committed 21 turnovers, many of these due to Greece's excellent defense. Even in the loss it was a great tournament for Nowitzki who was named tournament MVP and basically carried this under-talented German team into the finals. Nowitzki's jump shot with 3.9 seconds left (his 26th and 27th points of the game) put a dagger into Spain in Saturday's semi-finals setting up the matchup with Greece in the finals.
Bronze Medal Game
France 98 vs. Spain 68
After losing on the Nowitzki shot, Spain faced France in the Bronze Medal game and were blown away. France took the lead at 26-23 on a Boris Diaw 3-pointer and never looked back. Spain showed their frustration picking up needless technical fouls and were clearly not the same team after the tight-fought loss to Germany the previous afternoon. Tony Parker, whose missed free throws and costly turnover in the closing minutes of Saturday's game vs. Greece helped cost his squad the win, redeemed himself with an exceptional performance. Parker posted 25 points and was instrumental in running his squad and setting up his teammates. France played above the rim most of the night and were simply much more agressive then their Spanish foes outrebounding them 41 to 25.
From a Raptors perspective however Rob Babcock and his scouting staff must be patting themselves on the back. Sure, Uros Slokar didn't receive much playing time but his other recent acquisitions put on quite a show. Up until Friday's game against Spain, Roko Leni Ukic simply was not getting much burn off the bench. That changed in Croatia's intense match on Friday afternoon versus the Spaniards. Croatia was simply being outscored and outhustled by the Spanish squad in the second half and Roko was sent into action. While he's still extremely skinny and young looking (his baby face doesn't help) Roko played like an NBA vet. He routinely used his quickness to leave defenders in the dust and posted 15 points including a wide array of spinning layups, jumpers and 3 point shots. In fact his quarter buzzer beating 3 pointer seemed to have swung the tide in favour of Croatia at one point. Roko was also a force on the defensive end. His length and height at 6-5 enables him to be a terror in the passing lines and on more then one occasion he helped instigate steals and fast breaks the other way. In fact if Croatia had won, Roko would have been the hero of this game. (More on this later.) Roko still needs to work a bit on his outside shot and definitely could use some time in the weight room but this will all come. The skills he possesses right now at only 20 years of age must have Babcock smiling from ear to ear.
Ironically, the player Roko is replacing next year for Tau Ceramica is none other then Spain's point guard Jose Calderon, the player he was matched up with for most of Friday's match when they were both on the court. Calderon had an excellent tournament as we've previously discussed on this site and was an important piece of Spain's win over Roko and Croatia. Calderon was the best point guard I watched throughout the tournament. While he's not a dominant offensive player, he has a great feel for the game, rarely turns the ball over, hits open shots and plays tough defense. Perhaps his greatest asset however is his quickness. Much like France's Tony Parker, Calderon loves to run. When he gets the ball he can blow by his defender under control and finish around the rim or kick the ball out to an open teammate. In fact, I noticed that the times when Spain got in trouble were mainly when he and fellow backcourt mate Juan Carlos Navarro were sitting on the bench. Spain's offense stopped moving, the turnovers would mount, and the team generally did not make good decisions. (As an aside Navarro was just incredible all tournament and after Dirk, was the tournament's MVP in my opinion. He's a classic "tweener" as he's a bit small for the 2 and too much of a scorer for the 1, but what an offensive arsenal. It would not surprise me to see an NBA team take a flyer on him at some point.) After watching Calderon I really believe that he will be a huge asset to the Raptors. It would not even surprise me to see Calderon start and Rafer coming off the bench as more of a scoring point. Calderon simply seems to play better within a system and looks to get his teammates involved first. He also seems to be a better defensive fit then Alston as even when Germany ran screen and rolls against Calderon, he defended them well. Raptors fans probably still have nightmares about Rafer being posted up and backed down by Gary Payton last year and it will be tougher to do this versus Calderon. Nowitzki was switched off on him several times and Calderon managed to force him into a difficult shot or kick-out on each occasion. And when his shot wasn't falling Calderon was constently moving ala Rip Hamilton and seemed to want the ball in his hands with the shot clock winding down. A perfect example of this, and the trust his coach had in him, was at the end of Saturday's game versus Germany. After Nowitzki's shot to put Germany up by 1, there were still about 3 seconds left. Spain called a timeout and drew up a play wereby the ball was inbounded to Calderon who sped to just inside halfcourt and got a 3 point shot off. Unfortunately for him and Spain, the shot rimmed out. However, this is exactly what you want out of your point guard and leader.
Franchise's Random Thoughts:
- Fran Vasquez let's'em know: Vasquez had his coming out party vs. Croatia. If he had not stolen the rebound off a missed free throw and put it in was seconds left to force overtime, Croatia would have won Friday's game and as previously mentioned, Roko would have been the hero. Fran was simply Shaq-like posting 26 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. While he still lacks much of a mid-range game, he's extremely active around the glass and gets great position. Hopefully this performance will offer some solace to the Orlando Magic who had expected him to be a member of this coming year's squad. If he keeps developping at this pace and eventually comes over to the League, he and Dwight Howard could makeup the most dominant frontcourt in the league.
- Young gunz getting no shine: The common theme in this tournament up until the semis was the lack of play for some of Europe's rising stars. Players like Roko, Marko Thomas, Rudy Fernandez and even Vasquez were having a tough time cracking their respective lineups. In the semi-finals however, with the tempo amped-up, all of these players got some serious minutes. Marko Thomas was put in for Croatia in the final clutch minutes versus Spain and showed why he's a potential first round pick next year. Rudy played a godo deal for Spain as well and while a bit thin ala Roko, his potential and length make him a solid first round prospect as well. However this was the exception as for most of the tournament older players such as France's Antoine Rigodeau, who came out of retirement for a shot at the title, got most of the playing time.
-Sketchy reffing: As many of you may have heard, there were a great many intra and inter team fights this year. While some of this was due to the egos and competitiveness of the tourney (not to mention resentment towards various Euro players now in the NBA), a great deal was due to shabby refereeing. Inconsistant and missed calls were quite blatant throughout many games and Croatia felt that reffing cost them a chance to play Germany in the semi-finals. Croatia lost in OT to Spain but the main play in question occured in the closing seconds of regulation time. Spain tied the game with seconds left on a Fran Vasquez put-back in which he "outmuscled" Marko Thomas after a missed Spain free throw. Vasquez however appeared to have pushed his defender out of the way and yet no call was made. This and the huge discrepancy in calls towards Croatia eventually cost them their composure and Spain simply foul shot their way to a win in the extra period.
-Exciting basketball: That being said however, many of the games, especially amongst the final 8, were a joy to watch. The games were extremely well played, high scoring on several occasions, and 3 of them came down to last second shots that had me on the edge of my seat. Hopefully the NBA participation remains in 2006 and we see the same caliber of basketball as this year's tourney.