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Greece top Turkey 76-74 in Overtime

In an exciting if inelegant quarterfinal matchup, Greece finished on top to advance to the semi-finals of EuroBasket where they will face pre-tournament favorites Spain.

The first half was a bit of an ordeal.  Greece couldn't shoot, but Turkey couldn't rebound, and the half ended with three points separating the teams, Greece on top 29-26.

Both teams looked better for most of the second half.  Turkey took a brief lead at 32-31, but 5 straight points by Greece put them back on top.  They held the lead until 6 minutes left in the game, when Hedo Turkoglu finally showed up.

Turkoglu had been almost completely invisible in the game to that point.  In fact, he was 0 for 6 with zero points.  But a follow dunk on a fast break got the lid off, and he scored eight straight, giving Turkey a 6 point lead, their biggest of the game, with 2:23 left.

But a walk called on Hedo on Turkey's next possession contributed to an improbable 8-0 run that allowed Greece to recapture the lead.  Unfortunately, when Zisis missed one of two at the line with 18 seconds left, it left the lead at 2, giving Turkey the option of going to the basket on their final possession.  They did just that, and Ender Arslan's layup at the buzzer forced the game into OT.

When Greece opened the extra period 10-4 on the strength of two Vassilis Spanoulis threes, it seemed like the game was over with only 76 seconds left.  But astoundingly Greece committed completely unforced turnovers on bad passes on each of their next two possessions, giving Turkey the ball down one with 29 seconds left.  But Hedo missed a tough shot, and this time when Zisis made one of two it was enough, as Turkey's last second shot came up short.

Fourth quarter heroics aside, Turkoglu really did struggle.  In addition to the key fourth quarter baskets that helped Turkey come back, he also had some key turnovers and misses down the stretch which allowed Greece back in.  But give Greece some credit for playing tough defense on him as well.  I mentioned being impressed with Printezis in the Greece-Germany game, and he stepped up in this one as well.  His defense was excellent, and it was his three pointer with 36 seconds remaining that gave Greece the lead back.   

It was interesting to see the Turkish team adopt an NBA philosophy at the end of the game.  Almost every possession down the stretch involved a two man game with Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova, their two NBA players.  It was that classic Boston set, where they set the high screen on Pierce's guy with the sole intent of getting the switch.  Basically, once Turkey got the switch, they isolated either Turkoglu or Ilyasova, whichever matchup they liked better. 

It's also not hard to see why NBA people have singled those two guys out as belonging in the Assoc.  They are long, they are skilled, and they can get shots for themselves.  Unfortunately, although they were indeed getting shots, the shots weren't falling.  Hedo finished 3 for 9, Ilyasova 3 for 12.  (The bloody gash on Ilyasova's chin might have had something to do with his poor shooting - it was a rough game, and he caught a vicious if inadvertant elbow in the first half.)

Clipper draftee MBFGC was not his usual efficient self on offense, but he was certainly a presence in the game.  In fact, I have his plus/minus at a +7 in 18 minutes, which is significant in a 2 point contest.  So although he was only 2 for 6, he was still helping his team, which is good to see.  He still managed 9 points in 18 minutes despite shooting poorly, as he went 5 for 8 from the line.  He grabbed six rebounds, three of them on the offensive end, which was also a pleasant surprise.  I'm not sure why his rebounding tends to be so sub-par.  Obviously he's plenty big, and he has great hands, so you'd think he'd put up decent rebounding numbers just getting the ones that come into his area.  When I watch him, he seems to be working for position and going after rebounds - it just so happens that in this game, he was finding them.

Ilyasova's length bothered him some, which was interesting.  Sofo continued to get great deep post position, but whereas he usually takes his time, clears out more space and finishes, he seemed to be rushing things a bit today.  Ilyasova did a good job of backing off on the catch so that he'd have room to elevate and challenge shots without Sofo leaning on him.  It worked, as Ilyasova was twice able to block Sofo near the basket.

Finally, a word on Spanoulis.  When Carlos Arroyo was rumored to be heading to the Clippers last month, I made the point about him that some players are best when they are the unquestioned leader of their team.  Carlos Arroyo as the MAN for team Puerto Rico, handling the ball, running the show, making plays, is a great fit.  Arroyo as a backup point guard in the NBA - not so much.  I get the impression that Spanoulis is that guy as well.  In one miserable season in Houston, he played a mere 272 minutes of mostly garbage time.  But Spanoulis has made so many big threes in this tournament I'm losing track.  In this game, after a blown call in which the 24 second shot clock should have been reset, a Greek bucket was taken off the board and Greece instead found themselves inbounding with 4 seconds on the shot clock and a 3 point lead.  No problem - Spanoulis calmly drained the three at the shot clock buzzer.  He's a guy who makes big plays.  But what good is a guy who makes big plays when he's sitting on the bench during big-play-time?  He was correct to return to Panathanaikos.  He's a mega-star in Europe, and he thrives on that.

Greece now has a decided disadvantage in their semi-final against Spain tomorrow.  Not only does Spain have the extra day of rest, but Greece is also coming off a close overtime win, while Spain had a laugher versus France. 

The other semi-final is Slovenia-Serbia in a re-imagining of 1991's Ten-Day War.  Slovenia came from behind to beat Croatia 67-65 in yet another close quarterfinal.