It almost seemed like destiny, undefeated Turkey meeting up with undefeated Team USA for the 2010 FIBA World Championship.
But it took every one of the 40 minutes in Turkey’s thrilling 83-82 semifinal win over Serbia for the hosts to get there.
If you did not find a way to get in front of a TV with ESPN Classic or a computer serving up ESPN3.com, you surely missed out in this one. This was one of the better basketball games I’ve seen in some time.
Serbia led throughout since trailing 4-3 a couple minutes in and even opened up a 72-64 lead with 5:36 to play. But the Turks kept fighting back and reeled off an 12-3 tear over the course of the next couple minutes to finally get back on top on a clutch Kerem Tunceri three.
The game stayed close for the next couple minutes down to the 1:18 mark when Milos Teodosic of Serbia fouled Omer Asik as he was about to put up an easy layup. Asik was hit in the face but he immediately hit the deck as if his career had just ended and stayed there for a few minutes before being carefully attended to on the sideline.
This was relevant because Asik could be the worst free-throw shooter in the NBA next season when he joins the Chicago Bulls. He’s hit just 36.6 percent of his foul shots in the tournament (15-for-41), and thus I’ve never seen a more obvious fake injury (perhaps I don’t watch enough soccer). The ESPN announcers even commented on how he didn’t look so hurt anymore a few plays after the free throws were shot while celebrating on the bench.
His replacement Ender Arslan hit one of two (and Asik very well may have done just that) so it’s hard to say how much this fake injury changed the game, but it’s just one of those things you never see in the NBA game, a situation where an injury is this obviously fake.
The excitement had only just begun at this point. Nenad Kristic cut the lead to one by hitting one of two foul shots and then Hedo Turkoglu went down and missed a three that could have pretty much sealed it. Then Marko Keselj put the Serbs back on top by drawing a foul and hitting both foul shots and Asik’s replacement Semih Erden responded by getting fouled on a dramatic dunk to give Turkey back the lead after being found cutting to the hole on a beautiful drive and pass by Tunceri.
He missed the resulting free throw to keep the lead at one, so when some slick Serbian passing found Novica Velickovic for an easy two inside, Serbia led by one with four seconds left and Turkey had one final shot to keep its hopes of a gold alive.
I figured it would go to the Suns’ new power forward thanks to his crunch-time reputation, and that’s exactly who the ball was inbounded to in a crowd. He headed to the left corner only to seem to lose the ball when all of a sudden Tunceri burst from the crowd with the ball in his hand and a clear path to the basket. Even he must have been surprised how open he was as he dropped in the game-winning basket with a shot as easy as a pre-game layup line make.
It’s hard to say whether Turkoglu lost the ball or it was a perfect pass with the defense out of position, but I have never seen a 6-foot-4 point guard get such an easy look in an end-game situation. For that you can either credit Hedo for drawing the defense or just chalk it up to luck as Turkey coach Bogdan Tanjevic did. Turkoglu himself called it “kind of half lose, half pass.”
Then when Serbia couldn’t convert with five tenths of a second left all the Turkey players jumped into a human mob at midcourt, knowing they would get their chance at the Americans and the gold.
Tunceri was without question my player of the game. We’re talking about a guy who had averaged 5.0 points per game entering the quarterfinals against Slovenia, a guy who didn’t even score in the round of 16 win over France and a guy who had tallied just two points before his monster three with 5:16 left to immediately cut into Serbia’s eight-point lead. Tunceri finished with 10 points in the final five-plus minutes and each basket was bigger than the next.
Turkoglu scored a team-high 16 points on 6-for-14 shooting (3-for-7 on both twos and threes) to go with a pair of boards and no assists, but he was not exactly a crunch-time force, unless you count losing the ball into Tunceri’s hands as being clutch. Hedo nailed a big pull-up three with 7:38 remaining to cut the lead to two but did not score from there on out.
He missed a bunch of shots not in the rhythm of the offense that I would classify as bad shots, particularly if he were to take them in Phoenix’s offense. His three-point miss with 35 seconds left up one was pretty egregious since he had Nenad Kristic on him and should have penetrated and either taken him all the way to the hole or pulled up for a mid-range J.
But Hedo’s teammates ensured that he will play one more international game in front of his home fans with everything on the line. We shall see if Turkoglu will return the favor Sunday against the Americans for the gold.
Goran Dragic, Slovenia slip to eighth with loss to Russia
Goran Dragic and Slovenia’s FIBA run ended with the country’s third loss in a row in a 83-78 come-from-ahead defeat at the hands of Russia in the seventh-place game. Slovenia will thus finish eighth in the tournament.
You can’t exactly blame Dragic as The Dragon went for 15 points, a team-high seven assists and three boards.
Slovenia led by seven at the half and maintained that lead through three before Russia turned it on in the fourth, outscoring the Slovenes by 12.
After a Miha Zupan triple to start the scoring in the fourth, Russia tied the game with a 10-0 run capped by a Vitaliy Fridzon three-pointer with seven minutes left. A long ball by Bostjan Nachbar, who led Slovenia with 20, put Dragic’s squad up five with 2:31 left, but Russia countered with another 10-0 run in the next 1:47 to put the game away.
Up next: Turkey faces Team USA on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. MST on ESPN for the gold.