The late games just ended, with Germany pulling away from Italy in the fourth quarter to post a 14 point victory, 76-62. It wasn't pretty. Italy was 5 for 9 on three pointers early in the third quarter - and then went ice cold from deep. It didn't stop them from shooting though. They missed 11 straight before Danilo Gallinari finally made one to cut the lead to two. But they missed four more after that and Germany pulled away. Italy missed 15 of their last 16 three pointers - this is a team that is known for their shooting. The Azzurri led the game 51-48 with less than 9 minutes to play. The Germans outscored them 28-11 from that point.
For Germany, they turned to their big NBA star, the guy they go to in crunch time, a guy who has proven to be clutch - Chris Kaman? He struggled through three quarters - he was making good moves and getting the shots he wanted, but they just weren't going in. At one point he was 2 for 9. But he made five of his final six shots, including his last four, to lead the Germans down the stretch. He scored 10 fourth quarter points, and finished the game with 17 points and 17 rebounds. I couldn't help but think about the trust the German coach Dirk Bauermann showed in Kaman. Even when Kaman was the Clippers leading scorer, he never got fourth quarter touches. Think of his 20wo30 streak - he could have 25 entering the fourth quarter, but he won't get to 30. I doubt he's ever had a 10 point fourth quarter in the NBA. What a different role he plays for this German team.
Of course Dirk Nowitzki was also huge, finishing with 21 and 12. The Italian defense was understandably keyed on him, and they crowded him and overplayed him all over the floor. Many potential fouls weren't called (and many were), but it didn't matter - Dirk still found ways to make shots. Off balance bank shots, wrong foot fall aways - it's not news, but man that guy makes some weird looking shots go down. Robin Benzing, the 22 year old 'future' of German basketball, played well also, scoring 14.
For Italy, cold shooting was the entire story. Andrea Bargnani was 3 for 14, Gallinari was 4 for 15, and even Marco Belinelli, who led them with 15 points, took 14 shots to get those points. This was a huge game - looking at Group B before the tournament started, France and Serbia had to be considered the top two teams, with Italy and Germany each having a case to be the third. Germany's win today puts them in the driver's seat.
If you were watching and listening on watchespn.com, you may have been surprised to hear the announcer get excited for a 3-pointer by the Germans with one second left. He certainly sold it more than he needed to, but the point is that point differential matters in group play. With Germany, France and Serbia all sitting at 2-0 in the group (and the other three all at 0-2), Germany is certainly in great position to expect to advance to the second round as one of the top three in the group. BUT, the point differential may yet come into play. Germany's next two games are against France and Serbia. Latvia has already played France and Serbia. If Germany loses their next two, and Latvia beats Italy and Israel, then the game between Latvia and Germany on the last day of group play could determine the third team to go through. The first tie-breaker is head-to-head, but if three teams are tied at 2-5, it will move to point differential.
The rest of the tournament continues to hold form, with Macedonia's last second win over Croatia qualifying as a minor upset. That makes things in Group C very interesting. In what should be called the Balkans group, Greece is now 2-0, while just-happy-to-be-there Finland is 0-2. That leaves Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Montenegro all tied at 1-1. In case you hadn't noticed, all four of those teams used to be part of Yugoslavia, not to mention that Macedonia has to officially go by the title "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" since the Greeks maintain that the real Macedonia (the land of Alexander the Great) is actually in Greece. So there is a LOT of national pride on the line when these teams play.
Spain, Turkey and hosts Lithuania are all undefeated in Group A, the Group of Death - tomorrow's meeting between Turkey and Lithuania figures to be the game of the tournament so far. Russia has looked good so far in Group D.
Germany has their first big challenge tomorrow against France, with the game once again starting at 11 AM Pacific time. On pure talent, you have to give the edge to France. They have the bodies to work on Nowitzki and Kaman, while on the other end Germany has no one even remotely capable of defending Tony Parker, the tournament's leading score at 26 per game after two days. Both Dirk and Kaman will have to have big games for Germany to win.