Eurobasket 2017: Greece - Russia Preview
Peter Katsiris from AGONAsport.com brings you a full preview for Greece’s Eurobasket 2017 quarterfinal against Russia.
Greece’s journey at Eurobasket 2017 continues on Wednesday night as the quarter-finals pit the Ethniki against Russia, in what is expected to be a hotly-contested quarterfinal at the Sinan Erdem Arena.
A dismantling of Croatia on Sunday further showed Russia’s steel, with shooting guard Alexei Shved seizing the opportunity to also solidify himself as the leading scorer at Eurobasket 2017 thus far.
Kostas Sloukas played a similar role to Shved in Greece’s defeat of Lithuania at the weekend, and Coach Kostas Missas will demand more of the same as Greece set their sights on reaching the semi-finals with Russia standing in their way.
After needing a final day win against Poland to clinch a berth in the knockout round, few predicted Greece’s campaign to carry on past the Round of 16. A clinical performance from Greece’s offense, bolstered by periods of water-tight defending, meant Greece rolled into the quarter-finals with a 77-64 win over Group B winners Lithuania.
Perhaps Greece’s performance against Lithuania was most impressive because of how poorly the group stage was for the Ethniki. A string of three losses to Slovenia, France, and Finland are in the rear-view mirror as the path to Sunday’s Final becomes clearer and clearer.
Greece can attribute a lot of their success in their last two outings to the strong play of Sloukas and fellow guard Nikos Calathes. The one-two punch offered by Sloukas and Calathes has fueled Greece’s two best performances at the tournament thus far, and the correlation between their play and the success of the squad has become apparent.
After a sluggish start to the group stage, Sloukas was unfazed by the pressure of Greece’s vital game against Poland and the play-off against Lithuania. The Fenerbahce guard is Greece’s leading scorer with a tournament average of 16.2 points per game, and a current streak of back-to-back games with 21+ points (21 points vs. Poland, 26 points vs. Lithuania).
Meanwhile, Calathes has also been vital in distributing the ball to Sloukas and Greece’s big men. The Panathinaikos guard has begun to play his best basketball at jus the right time as Calathes has averaged 19 points and 8 assists in his last two outing – a much needed boost for Greece’s offense.
Missas will continue to rely heavily on the pair of Sloukas and Calathes, but the Greece bench-boss will be further relieved if contributions – like the ones offered by Georgios Printezis and Ioannis Bourousis – can provide the depth scoring Greece will need to overcome Russia.
Kostas Papanikolaou, who still has yet to reach his offensive peak at Eurobasket 2017, will need to take his game to another gear; however, the Olympiacos guard should take confidence in his 11 point, 6 rebound display against Lithuania.
While Greece scraped through the group stage, Russia finished third in Group C despite a 4-1 record. The Russians only loss came at the hands of Latvia, but that slip-up appears to be well-forgotten by Sergey Bazarevich’s squad.
Timofey Mozgov provides a big presence for Russia in the paint, but Russia’s perimeter game has been the catalyst for success thanks to Shved. A former NBAer with the New York Knicks, Shved has shown flashes of brilliance for Russia en route to a tournament-leading average of 23.7 points per game.
With Shved shouldering most of the pressure offensively, Dmitry Khvostov has stepped-up to play a supporting role behind Shved. Much like Greece’s strong backcourt presence, the chemistry between Shved and Khvostov has been vital in getting Russia out of a tricky group and into the quarter-finals.
Where Russia can go from here depends strictly on the ability for Russia’s players to support Shved offensively. Aside from Shved and Mogov, no other Russian player is averaging double digits in points per game – an area for Greece to exploit if they can neutralize the threat offered by Shved and Mozgov.
A strong start will be important for Greece to establish a tempo, particularly on offense where previous outings in the group stage saw Greece struggle early. Despite giving up the first few baskets against Lithuania, Greece were in control for most of the game and so it appeared that the pace-setting position best suits Greece.
Even with a late Lithuanian resurgence, Greece looked comfortable playing with the lead – a stark contrast to their group contests that saw Greece trail by large quantities, for long periods.
With Shved very much a streaky scorer for Russia, Greece will need to remain on point defensively and use the momentum provided by their defense to fuel their offense – much like Greece’s transition game against Lithuania.
Although the main matchup to lookout for will be the battle of the backcourts, the battle for the paint between Mozgov and most likely Georgios Papagiannis will also be crucial for both sides. Papagiannis only featured for 13 minutes against Lithuania, but was effective in shutting down star center Jonas Valanciunas.
Papagiannis can expect a similarly difficult task against Mozgov, and should Greece’s starting centre struggle then Missas won’t be hesitant to turn to the veteran Borousis to stop Russia’s threat inside.