Goran Dragic had to feel pretty comfortable Monday in helping Slovenia to a preliminary round win over Croatia in the FIBA World Championship.
For much of the second half, the Slovenians looked a lot like the Phoenix Suns, nailing three-pointer after three-pointer to put away their southern neighbor 91-84. Dragic was Slovenia’s second-leading scorer, finishing with 14 points, four assists and four rebounds.
Dragic shot 5-for-10 from the field, contributing to Slovenia’s 55.4 percent shooting percentage. However, The Dragon also committed a team-high five turnovers.
Croatia controlled the tempo and led for most of the first half, heading into halftime up 44-39. With just over four minutes left in the fourth quarter, Dragic sparked the Slovenians on a game-changing run.
With a defender in his face, Dragic nailed a jumper to tie the game at 52. He followed up on the next possession with a three-pointer to put Slovenia ahead. After Croatia turned over the ball on an over-and-back violation, Dragic dished to Bostjan Nachbar who promptly sank yet another deep ball, putting Slovenia up by six. A flurry of three-pointers followed by both teams, starting with Marko Popovic’s deep ball that brought the score to 58-55.
Another set of three-pointers from Uros Slokar and Miha Zupan gave Slovenia a 64-55 lead and it would end the third quarter up 65-59. The Croatians pulled ahead briefly in the fourth quarter, but after trading leads briefly, Zupan nailed another three and the Slovenians never trailed again.
Each team finished with 11 three-pointers, with Slovenia shooting 11-of-22 from deep and Croatia 11-of-20.
The win moved Slovenia to 2-1 in preliminary round play. What showed through most for Dragic was his ever-increasing confidence. The way he directed his teams loudly on the court at times brought to mindcommanding his team with intensity and focus.
Dragic seemed comfortable running the offense and confident in his ability to lead it. As an individual though, Dragic is still working to hone his offensive skills when it comes to moving with the ball (hence five turnovers) and passing. Ultimately, if Dragic can keep contributing the amount of scoring he did and direct the offense with such efficiency, it should bode well for Slovenia and the Suns.
U.S. survives Brazil, Barbosa
Former Phoenix Sun Leandro Barbosa went on a first-quarter tear Monday in an effort to put the unbeaten Brazilians ahead early against the also unbeaten Americans, but it wasn’t enough as the U.S. squeaked by, 70-68.
Barbosa (5-for-18, 3-for-13 from distance) scored eight in the first quarter, but cooled to finish with 14 points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals. Barbosa nearly forced overtime with a last-second shot that rimmed out.
Kevin Durant led the U.S. to its third win in pool play with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Chauncey Billups added 15 points and Derrick Rose scored 11.
Up next: The Dragon next takes the Slovenians up against Brazil (2-1) Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. MST. The game will be broadcasted on NBA TV.