It was a spirited display by Turkey to give Latvia quite the fright in the last game of Group D but, in the end, they simply couldn’t contain Kristaps Porzingis. Emmet Ryan looks back on a game where the New York Knicks man kept his cool and brought the fire where it mattered
Well this was a first. The home crowd were beeing met well by Latvia’s raucous support. Russian players had described the clash with the Baltic state as being like playing it in Riga and this certainly wasn’t as clear a home advantage as Turkey had enjoyed the rest of the week.
There was little between the sides early on. Latvia settled quicker but Turkey were right on in short order. This was always going to be tense. Victory meant a far more favourable spot in the knockout rounds, Montenegro for Latvia or Croatia for Turkey. Defeat for either side meant Spain and Spain have been that Spain all tournament long. Spain are the team everyone wants to avoid.
Having struggled on the inside against traditional bigs throughout this competition, the match-up for Kristaps Porzingis against Semih Erden was always going to be interesting. Semih’s not the defender Timofey Mozgov or Ognjen Kuzmic are nor does he have the bruising power of Boban Marjanovic. He was however still a veteran skilled in the darker arts of playing the 5. He didn’t need to outplay Porzingis, he just needed to get under his skin and force him to give up fouls. The first quarter just about belonged to Porzingis who, after giving up one to Cedi Osman, kept Erden at bay without fouling while going after him offensively
Offensively Turkey were happy to run with their veterans early as Melih Mahmutoglu put in a fine opening stint, racking up 11 points in the game’s first 8 minutes to push Turkey in front. Ainars Bagatskis opted not to pair Davis Bertans and Porzingis early, letting the New York Knicks man sit when Davis came in for his first run. Latvia were playing a more open game on offence now but Turkey were living with their scoring surge. At the end of the first Latvia were up 24-22.
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Latvia got off to a strong start in the second as the Ginger Fireball (credit Matt Bonner) and the more fluid line-up found plenty of holes in Turkey’s defence.
Ufuk Sarica went back to Melih Mahmutoglu in search of an offensive spark while Bagatskis finally paired up Porzingis and Davis midway through the frame. Defensively Latvia looked much stronger now and that was all the invitation Kristaps needed to attack. He was the one bullying bigs and drawing, not committing, fouls. Sinan Guler took on the assignment, looking to find Porzingis in broken play and get him to err.
Still the young man kept his cool, nailing a second three of the night and following it up with a putback dunk to give Latvia a double digit advantage. Osman gave Turkey a bit of a spark as the break neared and Furkan Aldemir chipped in well but Kristaps was on a mission here. There was only so much Turkey could do to limit him at this stage of the contest. At the half it was Latvia up 47-38, with 16 points for Porzingis.
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The horns blew hard from the stands as the Turkish fans tried to wobble Latvia’s offence. Semih went after Kristaps on the inside. Kristaps swatted him away, his third block of the night. It was going to take a lot more than an irritating drone to put him off his game here.
Offensively Latvia had gone a bit stale to start the half but their stout D was ensuring they maintained a clear edge over the hosts. Erden and Porzingis were about to do their thing again when Sarica got T-ed up. It’s a pretty old motivational tactic but his troops seemed to get the message. Semih went after Kristaps again and this time he drew the foul. Porzingis was on three now and Turkey had made the big man wobble slightly.
It was brief. Porzingis nailed another dunk to show what you get for trying to rile him. Osman however was standing tall and picking his shots. Turkey were finding ways to score whereas Latvia were almost entirely dependent on Porzingis. With the Knicks man taking a seat, Bagatskis was sending a message to the rest of his line-up. Janis Blums heard it loud and clear, nailing his fourth three of the contest soon after. Blums went long again before putting Martins Meiers in for a lay-up. Latvia were on top again and the press tribune rocked from the dancing of the Latvian fans to our left.
Turkey had heaps of heart but they kept running into walls. They finally got a break as Osman pulled off a four point play. The crowd was up for the end of this frame. One more stop and one more make and they’d have made a big dent. Semih got the and-one Turkey needed to close the quarter. Latvia were up going into the final frame but they were far from over the line, leading 69-63.
Kristaps returned to start the fourth without Davis, the latter sitting on four fouls. After a minute of shadow boxing Turkey drew first blood and Bagatskis immediately called in the troops. Davis came back in, far earlier than Bagatskis wanted to insert him into the contest. Mahmutoglu again and now this was a one possession game. Turkey had their shot to punish Latvia here and now.
Then the errors came. First from Mahmutoglu, then Erden, and then Guler. Just as they had Latvia on the ropes, Turkey were giving their opponents something to work with. Latvia made them pay hard and suddenly they had the window they wanted to work with.
It was enough to take care of business. Latvia had looked to their leader throughout and he delivered a masterful but composed display. His final line, 28 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, and 1 assist. Latvia’s reward is second place and a clash with Montenegro. For the hosts, it’s going to be Spain on Sunday.
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