Greece makes the semifinals

Greece’s basketball team reached the World Championship semifinals yesterday in Saitama, Japan, by defeating France 73-56. In the runup to the game, the French were speaking of their desire to avenge their defeat in the semifinal of last year’s European Championship, when Greece overcame a 62-55 deficit in the last 40 seconds to win 67-66. They came nowhere near as close to winning this time, with their only lead at 2-0, when forward Mickael Gelabale broke a scoreless tie three minutes into the game. The first quarter ended 12-8, with the two teams scoring a combined 8 of 29 field goals. The insertion of massive (2.06m, 150 kilo or 6’9» and 330 pound) center Sophocles Schortsanitis in the second quarter helped break the game open. French center Fred Weis could not contain Schortsanitis and was charged with three fouls in quick succession. Schortsanitis made five of six free throws and, together with five points from forward Antonis Fotsis and a buzzer-beating three-pointer from guard Dimitris Diamantidis, helped push the score to 34-24 at halftime. On the website of French sports daily L’Equipe, Diamantidis, who scored the winning three-pointer at last year’s clash, was described as «the Devil himself» and «the bete noire» of the French team. Yesterday, he scored 13 points, behind Fotsis and center Lazaros Papadopoulos (both with 14) but, as usual, contributed mostly through his dogged defense. By contrast, only Gelabale (12 points) scored in double figures for the French, who made just 35 percent of their shots. France had a final chance to get close at the end of the third quarter, when it went on a 10-3 run to close the gap to 51-43. With 0.9 seconds to go, Greek coach Panayiotis Yiannakis called a timeout and designed a play that was perfectly executed, with Fotsis scoring to make it 53-43. Greece now faces the undefeated United States, 85-65 winners over Germany yesterday. The two teams have met before at a World Championship semifinal, in 1994, with the US winning 97-58. This was when all other teams were in awe of the NBA superstars: Indeed, Greece was the first team not to have 100 points or more scored against them. That is long gone, as the USA’s sixth place at the previous World Championship, in Indianapolis, shows. Today’s US team is bent on restoring their pre-eminence. But, as yesterday’s match displayed, they are beatable. Greece must improve its rebounding, however, to have a shot at an upset.

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