Greece stays unbeaten, books a date with China

Guard Vassilis Spanoulis yesterday scored Greece’s last seven points to break a 69-69 tie and lead the national team to a 76-69 victory over Turkey for the World Championship in Japan. The victory gave undefeated Greece first place in Group C and a date with Group D’s fourth-place finisher China. The two will meet Sunday in an elimination match, with the winner advancing into the quarterfinals and a match with either France or Angola. China secured advancement literally in the final second with a buzzer beater that secured a 78-77 win against Slovenia. Slovenia will face Turkey, also on Sunday. Greece was missing guard Nikos Zisis with a shattered cheekbone suffered when Brazil’s Anderson Varejao intentionally elbowed him in the face on Wednesday. Zisis will miss the rest of the tournament to undergo surgery. Turkey was also missing a key player, forward Ersan Ilyasova, with a twisted ankle. The game seesawed, with Greece, as usual, relying on its defense and steals and Turkey largely relying on one player, shooting guard Serkan Erdogan, who scored 30 points. Greece got good performances from its two centers, Lazaros Papadopoulos and Sophocles Schortsanitis, who scored 17 and 14 points respectively, as well as forward Michalis Kakiouzis, the team captain, who also scored 17. Greece led 24-19 after one quarter, but Turkey rallied to take a 42-37 lead at halftime. In the third quarter, Greece’s stifling defense allowed Turkey only five points, but poor outside shooting limited Greece to a 54-47 lead after 30 minutes. In the final quarter, Greece had a 67-61 lead with three-and-a-half minutes to go, but two three-pointers by Erdogan tied the score at 67. Two free throws by Erdogan tied the game, for the last time, at 69, but Spanoulis scored a three-pointer, his only one in the game in five attempts, and four free throws to close the game, while Greece’s defense prevented Turkey from getting in a good shot in the final two minutes. As in its previous matches, especially against Lithuania and Brazil, Greece’s success depended on slowing down the tempo and not allowing the other team’s sharpshooters to score easy baskets. Yesterday, it failed to limit Erdogan during most of the game but did so when it counted, in the closing seconds. Greece’s asset is its incredible depth. Except for forward Panayiotis Vassilopoulos, everyone else has contributed decisively at some point and Greece can field two equal five-player units. This depth will be even more important in the matches to come, as it tries to win a medal.

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