Midway through the second quarter Italy looked on course for an upset of Croatia. Then everything fell apart as Croatia won 76-68.
After their comfortable win over Finland on Wednesday, Croatia looked to have finally hit their stride. Not so fast my friend. For the sixth time in seven games at EuroBasket 2013, the Croats made life hard for themselves. Trailing by 13 at one point against Italy on Saturday, Croatia were the makers of their own misery. They started an ugly 5 of 23 from the field as the Italians took charge with an exceedingly simple offence.
So simple that even Croatia couldn’t find a way to mess this up. Yes, for 15 minute the Croats played ugly basketball but eventually Roko Ukic realised that he needed to take on the load and start creating. Once he did Croatia became far less predictable and quickly gobbled up the deficit. The really staggering part of the game was how slow Italy were to try and counter. Leading by 5 at the half, Simone Piangiani knew his side was going to be under pressure early after the break. The one thing Italy’s offence had lacked in the first half was inside pressure. The shot chart for the third quarter shows just how slow Italy were to try and fix that issue.
It’s not just that Italy were missing inside, they were missing from everywhere, it was the sheer predictability. Italy went inside so rarely, particularly with a lack of passes to try and challenge the Croatian cover, that it was easy for the D to bring pressure. At the end of the third frame the game looked to be over but with their backs against the wall Italy finally tried to force it and, lo and behold, they had some success.
Once again Italy leaned heavily on Marco Belinelli and Luigi Datome for production. Datome’s work-rate makes him an easy player to like and his 24 points and 7 rebounds were earned with a mixture of graft and creativity. Belinelli face has the emotional range of Steven Seagal but it was impossible not to see the frustration creeping in. He’s been consistently effective in this tournament but the dearth of options at his disposal inside limitied him in this game. Save for a couple of nice slashes in the first half, the San Antonio Spur couldn’t find room to impose his game. The statuesque display by Alessandro Gentile certainly didn’t help and now the heat is on for the final game of stage two.
Croatia move to 2-2 with this win and face Greece in the final round. Depending on other results, both sides could progress. For Italy to progress they must beat tournament favourites Spain in their final game. If they couldn’t work it inside today, how will they fare against Marc Gasol?