It truly was a game of two halves in Istanbul as Latvia recorded an extraordinary second half comeback to hand Russia a first loss at EuroBasket 2017. Emmet Ryan looks back on a game where we saw the best of what Russia can do get picked apart by a team willing to bet big with nothing to lose
What has made this Russian side so different to the teams that were put aside so easily in 2013 and 2015 is their ability to dictate how the game was going to be played. Up to now, only Turkey had stopped Sergey Bazarevich’s charges from making it their kind of game and even that took some wild adjustments from Ufuk Sarica. Russia, simply put, have played their smartest basketball in years at this tournament.
For 20 minutes, that was what we got. Russia playing basketball so smart as to drive Latvia into despair. They had no answers until the break. It took until half-time for them to simply make a minor adjustment. Go at Russia with everyone. Be unpredictable and bring everyone, and I mean everyone, into the offence.
Latvia were going for their first ever win over Russia at EuroBasket, having failed in 5 previous attempts. There was oodles of action early but not a whole lot of offence as both sides seemed more obsessed with running each other into the ground early than actually putting points on the board.
Defensively this was just plain bullying. Not an inch was being given and even the introductions of Nikita Kurbanov and Davis Bertans did little to make life easier for either side on offence.
Russia had clearly learned from Serbia’s clash with Latvia and sought to bring meat against Kristaps Porzingis early. There was little room for the rangy New York Knicks man to operate and Timofey Mozgov was rarely short of a help defender. Russia were, as they had against Serbia, setting the rules of engagement. At the end of the first it was Russia on top, 15-12.
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Now this was more like it. Far more aggression on offence at both ends as Davis and Kurbanov looked to push the pace as bit more. Shved started rolling, he was finding guys and making plays. Davis stepped up to counter. With Kristaps having no joy, it was the leader’s first lieutenant who was taking command for Latvia.
The Russian assault was systematic. No space, no breaks, the opponent had to work for everything while Shved and company were happy to wait and pick their spots. This was a patient and efficient kind of basketball that was frustrating all who came before them. If an enemy is angry, irritate. Russia had gotten under the skin of Porzingis. His third foul of the game and technical to boot, putting Latvia in a hole. Without changing a thing from a back and forth game, Russia had moved into a 10 point lead and put Latvia’s biggest star in foul trouble.
A fourth for Kristaps.
Bagatskis was furious. The Latvian fans were incapable of being calmed. Mozgov had quietly done his job and let Kristaps get himself into trouble over and over until the damage was done. Now, free from the assignment, Mozgov could attack even harder. Russia weren’t taking charge, they had always been in charge. Latvia just didn’t know until it was close to half-time and they were staring up from the abyss. At the half it was Russia up 44-34 and firmly in command.
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It felt like a 20 point deficit for Latvia coming out of the break. Russia had broken them comprehensively throughout the opening 20 minutes. Ainars Bagatskis had to gamble. He brought Porzingis right back in. Latvia ran and shot, cutting the gap quickly to a single possession.
The Russians were unphased. They were happy to let Latvia gas themselves now, knowing they could take advantage at the moment their opponent paused for breath.
Finally an error. Andrey Vorontsevich needlessly went in hard and got called for his fifth. Out of the game and an opening for Latvia. Now it was Russia getting frustrated, Kurbanov repeatedly irate at not getting foul calls inside.
Janis Timma brought the Latvians to their feet late in the quarter as his three gave them a first lead in forver. Russia were running into shot clock trouble and making nothing happen offensively. The discipline that had defined the first half had disappeared. With 10 minutes to go it was all square, 52-52.
The oft-questioned Latvian bench was stepping up and getting work done, freeing up space for shooters and making plenty of contributions in their own right. Russia had a probelm here. You can’t just leave Davis Bertans open for 10 footers by the baseline.
Latvia kept coming. Timma saw the space and kept on going there. This was now Latvia’s game to lose. Russia were dependent on getting to the line to keep the scores coming. Latvia had rhythm, Russia could only lean on resilience.
Porzingis returned, his side having moved into an 8 point lead, it soon became 10. Now it was time for Kristaps to get some. Latrvia were leaning on their leader down the strecth and he was getting the job done. He finally picked up his fifth with 1.27 on the clock but by now Latvia were up 11 with the game won. Bagatskis, under pressure, bet on his bench, bet on his leader, and came up with the big W.
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