SPORTS

Greek hoopsters make last 16 in China, but have to toughen up

GEORGE GEORGAKOPOULOS

TAGS: Basketball

Greece had to work hard to beat New Zealand on Thursday in Nanjing, but did so with a 103-97 score and has qualified to the second group stage of the FIBA World Cup.

The match bore all the elements of a knock-out encounter, as the losing team would be eliminated. The Greeks were efficient in attack, leaving behind their poor showing against Brazil, but in defense they once again left much to be desired.

The Kiwis did not have the experience to handle Giannis Antetokounmpo the way the Brazilians had done two days earlier, but the point Greece needs to improve most is its pace in defense, which is the price a team pays when fielding line-ups of great height.

After a problematic start in defense, with New Zealand leading 14-11 after six minutes, Greece upped its pace and led by eight (25-17) to end the quarter nine points up (28-19).

The Tall Blacks stayed in the game thanks to their triples, but its quick game in offense allowed Greece to maintain its lead by half-time (51-44).

The second half was more of the same, with Greece advancing by 13 (64-51), but the New Zealanders cut the distance to five (71-66) by the end of the third period. The Greeks held on to win rather comfortably in the end, starting the fourth quarter with three triples (80-68) that practically took the game beyond the Tall Blacks.

Antetokounmpo recorded his first World Cup Double Double, scoring 24 points and collecting 10 rebounds.

Up next Greece faces Team USA on Saturday in the round of 16, as it enters the second group stage carrying along its defeat to Brazil.

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