After two and a half weeks of action it all comes down to this. One game to lift the Nikolai Semashko Trophy. Slovenia is looking to make history on multiple levels while Serbia is looking to go that one step further after losses in major finals in 2009, 2014, and 2016. 40 minutes will decide the champions of EuroBasket 2017. In the final part of our three part preview of the EuroBasket 2017 final, Emmet Ryan breaks down the key battles that will decide the game
You have to go quite the way back to find perfection at EuroBasket. The road to the title usually comes with battle scars along the way. Lithuania was the last team to lift the trophy without defeat, going 6-0 in a condensed format in 2003. You have to go all the way back to 1995, when Yugoslavia went 9-0, for a side to have achieved what Slovenia is aiming for on Sunday night. The scars define the battle so often in this competition but it’s been Slovenia’s ability to resist the slings and arrows of outrageous competition that has defined this tournament.
Serbia, they have taken their licks and look stronger for it. After a smooth start against Latvia they fell to Russia and might have to Turkey but they found their identity in their rally. The road has been rocky and not all that convincing at times but Serbia has remained resolute under the leadership of Bogdan Bogdanovic and the power of Boban Marjanovic. Now, the records mean nothing. They just need to get it together for one night to be crowned kings of Europe.
I’ve selected three key battles that will prove crucial in this clash.
Dragic and Doncic vs Jovic and Bogdanovic
Goran Dragic has been the man to keep Slovenia cool throughout this tournament while Luka Doncic is the ball of fire that has become the competition’s runaway breakout star. Bogdan is Bogdan. That leaves Stefan Jovic as the X factor in this battle. In the simplest terms, he needs to have the game of his life. Against Russia, he was having a magnificent game albeit a quiet one to the casual observer before an ankle injury ruled him out for the closing stages.
Jovic is used to having to shoulder responsibility against superior rosters, being the point guard for Crvena Zvezda gets you more than used to that job. Defensively he has been on form throughout the competition and his offensive game has been coming together through the knockout stages. Against Slovenia’s big two, it simply has to be on another level.
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The Boban plan
There’s one obvious area where Slovenia simply don’t match up well with Serbia. Gasper Vidmar showed he could live with the Gasol brothers against Spain but a straight match-up against Boban Marjanovic is a risky venture with the title on the line. Marjanovic has size, strength, and a tendency to score a bunch. We all know what Slovenia will be expected to do, run hard on multiple consecutvie possessions to take the wind out of the big man, it’s how they deploy this and how Serbia looks to counter that will matter.
Sasa Djordjevic won’t just let Slovenia run his big man down. He’s got Ognjen Kuzmic there to log big minutes defensively and any involvement of Vladimir Stimac, who has hardly seen the floor since the action switched to the Sinan Erdem Dome, could be crucial. Djordjevic is going to need to prioritise efficiency on Marjanovic possessions, he got plenty out of him on that front against Russia but he’s going to need the unit to work around the big man to not let him get gassed. For Slovenia it’s a matter of making life way too hard for Serbia on that front, with creative deployment of Anthony Randolp. The tougher they make it to keep Boban fresh, the better their chances.
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Battle of the benches
Igor Kokoskov has been able to count on his bench from the off in this competition, giving his go to guys options to work with in every outing. It’s not been as easy for Djordjevic but we’ve seen glimpses of the national team version of Milan Macvan, always far better than at club level, and Vladimir Lucic has had moments where he could be a difference maker.
This one again is really simple, Serbia has to get at least par with Slovenia in terms of bench contributions. It’s a monster ask but the job is clear. Slovenia has unheralded players who can deliver strong stretches for their side. Serbia’s lesser known battlers need to show they can do the same.
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