Greece exited the Basketball World Cup in China from the Round of 16, despite having been tipped for a medal, as its seven-point win (84-77) over the Czech Republic on Monday was not enough for the national team to make the quarterfinals.
Greece required a 12-point win, paying dearly for its loss to Brazil last week, but made a great effort in the second half, touched the miracle but was denied by the controversial ejection of Milwaukee Bucks super star Giannis Antetokounmpo and its poor free-throw shooting.
The strong start (10-2) to the game brought Greece three quarters of the way early on (26-17), but the complete lack of offensive rebounds and the loosening of the Greek defense in the second quarter had the Czechs turn things around to lead for the first time right at the end of the first half (33-32).
The Czechs even went ahead by five in the third quarter, before the Greeks closed their ranks when Giannis Antetokounmpo (12 points, nine rebounds) was given his fourth personal foul. Greece started collecting more rebounds and scoring from distance again, to get to the very margin it needed, i.e. 12 points (61-49) for the first time eight minutes from the end.
Just as Greece had the necessary distance Giannis made a coast-to-coast basket that all fans at the stands applauded before the referees deemed it an offensive foul, that TV replays showed it actually was a defensive foul. To the jeers of the fans (Giannis is very popular in China having been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player), the referees condemned Greece to playing the last five-and-a-half minutes without its biggest star.
The officiating upset the Greek bench too that was also given a technical foul, but Calathes kept Greece in the running into the last few seconds of the match (84-75) with his scoring, steals and assists. He made 27 points, plus six rebounds, six assists and three steals, but he was not enough.
Another problem for Greece was the poor record in free throws (10/18), as the eight missed would have turned the game on its head. The Czechs made 21/22 and are in the last eight of the tournament.