Just when it looked like Sergey Bazarevich had made a tactical blunder, Alexey Shved proved his coach more than right by utterly taking over the game in the third quarter. Emmet Ryan on how Russia put their foot down when they lightened the load to sweep past Croatia and into the quarter finals of EuroBasket 2017
It was name brand basketball early in this one. Alexey Shved three, another, Dario Saric, Bojan Bogdanovic, Timofey Mozgov, Dario again, Bojan again, Shved again…before finally someone that wasn’t expected to be doing the heavy lifting actually got on the scoreboard. In a game that was expected to feature some odd mismatches and scoring battles, it was delivering right on script through the first 5 minutes. By that stage Shved had already hit 11.
We all knew this was going to be a game that was star heavy but the takeover coming so quickly was a little surprising. Shved was getting awfully little offensive support while Croatia looked determined to stuff it up their jumper until Bojan or Dario was available.
The tail end of the half seemed to make the rest of the floor wake up with Luka Zoric and Andrey Zubkov remembering that they were meant to be having some kind of battle today rather than watching one. It was still predictably tit for tat stuff, not the type of game Russia really wanted. Sergey Bazarevich had largely been able to force teams to play on Russia’s terms through the group phase. Here it was a pretty open battlefield. His charges still held the lead after the first, 25-23.
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Russia kept their offensive pace up far better than Croatia to start the second so Aleksandar Petrovic opted to give his side a little more length with Dragan Bender. An immediate tip in from the youngster helped as he moved on Andrey Vorontsevich while the meatier task of Mosgov was left to Darko Planinic. Bazarevich was getting more of the individual contests he liked in this quarter but Croatia weren’t faltering. Midway through the frame it was all square and the Russian coach called in his charges.
The pace dropped hard. Russia were happy to conserve energy on offence just to frustrate their opponents at the other end. It was far more grinding stuff but Petrovic remained patient. He didn’t let his guys overdo it against the Russian D but after a far more tiring quarter for all players, Russia held the lead 46-42 at the break thanks to a Mozgov tip in at the buzzer.
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Bender got another look and in far more favourable circumstances for his game when Mozgov sat early in the third. Russia had gone a lot smaller and the set-up seemed to play right into Croatia’s hands. With Semen Antonov dragging Russia into early foul trouble, Croatia were able to get plenty of trips to the line as they charged straight ahead. Bazarevich’s crew had at least put up some points to give themselves something to defend before the switche but it looked like the wrong set-up at such a stage in the contest.
Yeah, so Shved. The only match-up he cares about is him and whatever’s between him and the basket. An easy lay-up and then a three-shot foul drawn in quick succession…and then a pull-up three. After all of those match-up questions, Russia had their biggest lead of the night midway through the quarter. When Shved’s out there it’s easier to overanalyse the rest of the floor.
Once Vitaly Friszon got in the act, Croatia were in serious trouble. Doubting Bazarevich’s thinking is clearly something one should never do. A 5 point gap had grown well out of control and Petrovic looked out of ideas. With 10 minutes to play Russia were well on course, up 72-57.
The fourth started like you can pretty much guess. Shved made a bucket, then he once again drew a three-shot foul. He actually missed one but Russia were up by 20. It was time for him to take a break. In 28 minutes he had 27 points, 10 assists, and 4 rebounds. Admittedly he had started the game on pace for 88 points based on the first 5 minutes but he can only go full Shved for so long out there.
It was all more than in hand. With their boss taking a break, Russia’s other guys were more than able to keep any thought of a Croatian comeback at bay. Shved didn’t sit long but the three minutes off were all he really needed. Shved’s a baller, he had asked to sit but there was only so long before he was going to want to get another taste. After all, the next one wasn’t coming until Wednesday. Shved got two more dimes before finally sitting for good.
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