Russia the unlikely champ of Eurobasket 2007
Posted by Ricky - Sixers4guidos on September 17, 2007
Russians came to Spain with no other ambition than getting a pass for the 2008 Olympics. They were facing the hosts in the final, a team that everyone picked as final winner and that a whole country was ready to carry to the victory, after five silver medals in the previous competitions (make it six, now…).
It’s not over. Russia gave up 17 offensive rebounds. Russia was down five (59-54) with 1.30 to go.
Euro 2007 will be remembered for the many close games, crazy comebacks and buzzer beaters and in the final game we had them all. To spice things up even more, the hero of the game was the most unlikely one.
Yes, because it was a black player named Jon Robert Holden, a Pittsburgh native, to take Russia to the 59-60 “road” win in the final seconds, a weird and enjoyable show at the same time.
The point guard – who, in case yo don’t know was given the russian citizenship by president Vladimir Putin in person !!! – first pulled a Michael Jordan, stripping the ball to Pau Gasol (a play very similar to the one MJ did vs Karl Malone in his last appearance, game 6 vs Jazz in 1998, seconds before scoring over Byron Russell) with Russia down one and 25 seconds to go… then pulled a Gary Payton in the other half of the court, dribbling, pump faking and hitting the game winner with 2 seconds to go (a play very similar to the one Payton did in game 3 of the 2006 Finals vs Dallas).*
That was the end of the game, but I have to tell you the whole story, once again it’s really worth.
Spain’s start was excellent: 3-0 with Rudy Fernandez connecting from the corner, then a couple of threes from Jose Calderon (very good also tonight) to push the lead to 15-4. Russia was playing like your typical jump shooting team so Spain could overcome Pau Gasol’s slow start (0/3), finding 5 points from his brother Marc, very effective under the boards, to close the quarter 22-11 with a lucky shot by Cabezas at the buzzer. “A sign”, everyone thought.
After another three by Raptor Jorge Garbajosa, Aleksey Savrashenko and Andrei Kirilenko began shaking their team A couple of dunks by AK 47 (10 points) and another pair of baskets by his big man cut the deficit to 31-25. Here came what I thought was “another sign”: a three by Pau Gasol, his first basket of the night (34-25). But he went back missing shots, while russian 7’3 center continued punishing spanyards in the paint (8 pts) and let his team end the first half down only 3, at an acceptable 34-31.
Some half time stats were really curious: Spain was 3/18 from 2 points (!! Gasol 0/4, new grizzlie Navarro 0/3…) and 7/15 from 3 (Calderon 3/3), Russia shot 1/9 from 3 pt and a nice 11/19 from 2. Rebounds were very close, (21-19 Spain), same for turnovers (Russia 8, Spain 7).
Gasol finally managed to score his first two pointer, the fourth three by Calderon pushed the lead back to 9 points at 40-31. Ponkrashov replied with another one from behind the arc and Spain didn’t take advantage from the fact that Savrashenko AND Kirilenko picked their 3rd fouls and had to leave the game. Gasol in fact cound’t find a rythm and Victor Khryapa made it a three point game at the end of the quarter (49-46) with a couple of misses that could have tied it.
Russia baby, Russia !!! A quick 5-0 run (10-0 if you include the end of the third) and the orthodox brothers were up for the first time at 49-51. Here came the ugliest part of the game, with russians committing a lot of offensive fouls (spanyards are very good in taking charges so for once don’t think about refs helping the home team…) and Spain bricking shot after shot.
Kirilenko came back when the score was tied at 52-52, only to see the Red team taking another lead with Pau Gasol scoring twice after being fouled but missing also four three throws in the spurt (he was 3/8 overall in the 4th and ended the game with a costly 5/12 from the line). His last miss came at 59-54 (1.30 to go), and here Russia built its (unlikely) win.
AK 47 was precise where Pau wasn’t (two foul shots, 59-56 at -1.17), Morgunov used the glass to make it 59-58 at -0.43, so that Spain went to its best player for the deciding shot. But Pau dribbled too much in the low post and when he tried to release his jump hook Holden came from nowhere to steal him the ball.
The honorary russian citizen wasn’t done with his heroics… with a little help from the rim AND the board he hit the game winner in the way I told you, silencing the 16.000 spanish fans. With 2 seconds to play Spain had a last chance and inbounded the ball to Pau again, but his desperate (and unlikely) shot (unluckily) went in and out.
The 28th miss out of 35 two pointers for the home team (that means 20 % !!) let Russia became the new european champion, showing how all the “signs” seen before were definitely misleading.
Kirilenko, 17 points, was named MVP of the competition.
An honour he should share with an (unlikely) “russian” from Pittsburgh.
(* = update: here is the link to the You Tube video of the last minute of the game)