By George Georgakopoulos
Greece lost to Croatia 92-88 on Monday in the second overtime to bow out of the Eurobasket in Slovenia and return home early, while its chances of making next year’s World Championship rely only on being invited through a wild card.
The Greeks only had an outside chance of making the quarterfinals of the tournament, but they were quite erratic and missed its two injured players, Costas Papanikolaou and Loukas Mavrokefalidis.
Croatia had already clinched qualification, but were playing for the top spot of the pool. Referees were on Greece’s side at times, given that the hosts wanted Croatia to lose so as to aim at winning the group, but this was not enough to compensate for Greece’s problems in rebounds.
The two teams were neck and neck for the whole of the game, with Greece leading by up to four points and the Croats by up to six (49-43). Croatia had a two-point advantage at half-time (36-34) as there was little separating the two sides.
With Yiannis Bourousis being a shadow of his usual self, it fell to Vassilis Kavadas to man the Greek frontline. The inexperienced Panionios center did remarkably well up to the point he got tired.
The Croats saw their slender lead evaporate, but held on to a 70-67 advantage with 20 seconds to go. Yet Croatia’s decision not to commit a foul in Greece’s last attack allowed Nikos Zisis to score a three-pointer with 10 seconds on the clock, which sent the match to overtime (70-70).
With Spanoulis fouled out, it was Costas Kaimakoglou who led Greece in the first overtime, as he dominated rebounds and scoring at the two ends of the court. Zisis had the chance to win the game for Greece at the end of the first overtime, but his lay-up missed the target with the score at 77-77.
With two-and-a-half minutes left Croatia advanced 86-79, but Greece scored seven unanswered points to equalize again (86-86) one minute from the end, led by Zisis. However he managed to miss yet another lay-up 19 seconds from the end with the score at 88-86 in the Croats' favor.
Greece therefore finished last in its pool of the top-12 of the tournament, that will likely be the only one coach Andrea Trinchieri will spend on the Greek bench.