Ahead of Serbia’s re-match with Russia, Emmet Ryan has selected three key battles that will decide who makes the semi-final. The group game won’t matter when a place in the final is at stake but there were lessons from that clash which could prove telling on Friday night
The group phase game was an upset. Russia, famously unfavoured by this site going into the competition, came out and schooled Serbia every which way they could. Both sides have seen their fortunes change since then before finding their feet in the knockout rounds. There are three key battles, two on the floor and one on the sidelines, that are going to be fundamental to deciding who progresses.
1. Sergey Bazarevich vs Sasa Djordjevic
Let’s not mince words here. Not for the last time in this tournament, Djordjevic got flat-out out-coached in the group game. Bazarevich was ready for every switch the Serbian legend made and had his counters down perfect across 40 minutes. This was one of the defining games of the Russian side at EuroBasket 2017. Talent wasn’t the reason for Russia’s woes in 2013 and 2015, much as the players talk about generational change. Team work and discipline were far bigger influences on the Russian slide. In Istanbul, Bazarevich has brought a roster that buys into everything he has laid out and the results are clear on the floor.
For Djordjevic, this along with the tough win over Turkey proved legitimate learning experiences. The step up in Serbia’s game, finding ways to win, was no more evident than in the way they responded to Italy’s attempt to kill the game in the quarter final. A side that had been playing with tension throughout the tournament was out there with a more relaxed game that bordered on taunting their foe. Djordjevic has always enjoyed his finest success when little was expected of Serbia, the team embraces an underdog mentality. With so many stars missing, it took a while for the side to get their moxie back but since the Turkey game we have seen a more focused side. Hungary was certainly a blip but the way they showed composure against Italy is really encouraging even if the game itself was poor fare for the neutral viewer.
In this clash a lot of it is coming down to Djordjevic trusting in what he does. He can’t worry about Bazarevich having counters ready. Like the Italy game, he needs his side to go out there believing that no switch by Russia will be enough to stop them.
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2. Bogdan Bogdanovic vs Alexey Shved
This is anything but a straight up battle but how and where the leaders on these sides perform in the game will make it one. Both men are the logical scoring option, albeit with a giant Serbian caveat, and have also clearly become creators in chief as well. When they are on, they raise the guys around them.
While Shved has been definitive Shved on multiple occasions this tournament, showing streakiness that explains why he is such a hard player to judge, his timing can’t be faulted. When Russia have needed him to come big, he has done so every time. On Friday night, the task is that bit tougher as he likely needs to be more consistent without changing his overall style.
With Bogdan, that fourth quarter against Turkey made his tournament. He was putting up good numbers but he hadn’t been able to show he could be the guy in the crunch until that clash. Since then we’ve seen a far more composed Bogdanovic on the floor and he is picking his spots while doing more to bring other guys into the offence. The obvious factor here is that he needs to bring those others guys in a lot more on Friday night.
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3. Boban Marjanovic vs Timofey Mozgov
After Serbia’s win over Italy I got the chance to ask Boban about this individual battle and he knew the task ahead.
The Bobinator was too obviously the go to option for Serbia in that group game. He got points but the reliance on him allowed Russia to show his defensive weakness against an opponent of similar strength. That massivelty reduced the impact his scoring had on the game and left Serbia looking flat and predictable on offence throughout. Marjanovic needs to give Mozgov more to think about when he is defending the big Russian while also forcing Russia to keep a true big on the floor rather than resorting to the smaller line-ups they have deployed for second half scoring runs.
As for Mozgov. The big guy knows the job. Beat up Marjanovic on offence and hope for the best on D. The more he does the former, the more Djordjevic will need to insert the defensively astute but offensively limp Ognjen Kuzmic. That will slow Serbia and allow Bazarevich to control the game more. That’s the game Russia want here. That’s the one Mozgov must deliver.
Serbia vs Russia is at 21.30 local time on Friday/20.30 CET/19.30 UK and Ireland/14.30 EST/11.30 PST.
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