As we reach the end of the second day of play in Group D of EuroBasket, Emmet Ryan brings you on a journey of how the tournament is being received in the massive city and the interaction with other parts of life and the rest of the competition. The key thing to bear in mind is that Istanbul is big, really, really, big
The sheer size of Istanbul is hard to fathom. While a lifelong Dubliner, save a year in Aberdeen, I’ve seen London, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Beijing, San Francisco, Madrid, Shanghai, and so many other big cities. None of them have the same impact as the city divided by the Bosphorous. From the balcony atop my guest house, I can see the straits and beyond them Europe. Here on the Asian side, it’s more emphatic than across the Bosphorous. Buildings up buildings, many tall, many in pieces, and little space. Every inch counts here.
Within all that, EuroBasket slots in. Whereas the arena in Berlin 2015 felt like an island of calm, the sense that something is happening here is more obvious around the town. At a pub in Kadıköy a middle aged local with a few too many downed asks what I think of Turkish football, when I told him I cared more about basketball he lit up. More fool me.
PORZINGOD. As a sleepy game where Latvia were making harder work than expected of Belgium was casually processing through the final frame, Kristaps Porzingis slammed a putback violently out of nowhere. Belgian timeout.
The second day is one to take some stock, to try and get a feel on what is actually happening in the tournament. Istanbul’s an easy city to sit back and think in. The tea shops and cafés are as plentiful as pubs back home. The pubs are plentiful enough too to be fair.
That crowded nature of this city leads to a western influence that is crammed in with the local. McDonalds beside tea shops, Popeyes, Carl’s Jr, and Arby’s, sticking out like unexpected imports in a food court with kebabs and other local fast food. Even the hoops here has a touch of that vibe. Turkey may not be able to have the NBA but it’s teams are obsessed with being the next best. They have the big budgets, they import the continent’s best known dance team from Ukraine in the form of the Red Foxes, they have the spark of big time basketball even if football is king, and they finally have the European trophies to show for it.
Day one brought us the best of Bogdan, some flashes from Bertans, less Porzingis than we’d like, and a whole lot of crazy from Turkey and Russia. Great Britain and Belgium also played but, with the Belgians being put to the sword easily by Latvia, the Lions and Britain likely won’t be roaring much this week. Porzingis had gotten hotter since the dunk, having already been pretty hot. He left to a big cheer with 27 points and 6 boards, but there was no Davis Bertans. He had missed this one with a finger injury. Every starter loss is a big blow to Latvia. At least there is time, they won’t need him until Tuesday.
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Still, after the game he said to speak to the doctors about it. In the press conference, coach Ainars Bagatskis said he would also leave it to the doctors. The injury was not going to be on the agenda but Kristaps playing the 5? Sure thing and the young man was happy to open up about how it’s not the most straightforward transition but he’s trying to bring the best elements of his 4 game to make it work.
The Latvian journalists gathered in the smoking section afterwards for friendly words and fist bumps as players headed to their bus. It was an expected win but going into the rest day on the back of a W is always nice.
The second game of the day got off to a funny start before the Bobinator arrived and did his thing. After a couple of confusing moments between him and Bogdan Bogdanovic, casual mistakes by each, the big man wrapped himself around Bogdan with both grinning widely.
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Alex Krstanovic, a veteran Serbian journalist and always entertaining, was hanging out in the smoking section at half time. He wasn’t happy but, hey, I told him they would be fine. This Russian team couldn’t run with them and Bogdan would heat up. Well Bogdan eventually got something going but Russia stayed ahead of them and got the surprise W. The post-game was not what anyone expected. Sasha Djordjevic was calm and gracious in defeat, only once getting a touch antsy when a Russian journalist asked a question he was somewhat confused by. Nothing thrown, no refs blamed, all chill. It was the same with the Russians, naturally happy with their win, and that descended into a wall of giggles.
There’s a big break built in to every day before Turkey play. They get the main event session. The arena, albeit not full, is guaranteed to have a sea of Turkish flags. The flags are everywhere in this city. Giant ones draping off buildings. The flag is constant, followed only by images of Ataturk. The guy in the bar on Friday night had an Ataturk tattoo on his left forearms, with a red crescent enveloping it. They are proud of what they are here. They are proud of what came before and want to be proud of what is to come.
Tonight should be business like. Turkey will come on the floor amid cheers. Great Britain will get some boos. Turkey will win and win well. The crowd will go home happy and the city, the city is going to be crazy.
All the while the outside can get lost. Spain hammered the Czech Republic today, Pau had 22 by the half. France held off a big Greek fightback, and Slovenia and Finland will be finishing their battle shortly after the big one here tips. Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, Israel and Lithuania will still be going at it in a suddenly really important game after it all ends here.
20 minutes before tip I wish Chris Egerton, who’s working with the Great Britain side, well. He’s hopeful that his charges can put up a good fight. Getting here was a big deal for Great Britain but this was about as tough a draw as they could have feared and the one game they were hopeful for was yesterday, a shootout they were on the wrong end of with Belgium.
A nice offensive spurt from Great Britain set up an entertaining first quarter. Three straight threes from the underdogs was the ideal set-up for the Semih Erden show on the other end, including a hook shot. So fancy. Semih had 9 by the end of the first, by which stage Turkey had finally reeled in Britain.
The British offence ensured this remained plenty of fun but Turkey’s trio of youngsters was just way too much for them to handle. In Cedi Osman, Kenan Sipahi, and Furkan Korkmaz, they had three kids who could run Britain out of the building. By the half the result wasn’t in doubt. Everyone expected that but at least Britain had maintained it’s dignity.
A faint cry of ‘Let’s go GB, let’s go’ could be heard as Britain put up a bit of a comeback in the third. The home crowd was getting tired and frustrated. They were still winning but, save for Melih Mahumutoglu’s fire from deep, there really wasn’t all that much to get worked up about. Their thoughts were already turning to the journey home.
Britain really did a good job making Turkey earn this and that actually got the crowd a bit hyped for the final few moments. A solid display, Great Britain would have taken that if offered them before the game. The Red Foxes and bongo cam were still doing more to wake the crowd all the same.
Afterwards spirits were largely high. The British players were proud with their fightback. Turkey knew where they went wrong. Great Britain coach Joe Prunty saw Hedo Turkoglu, now president of the Turkish federation, being interviewed en route to his press conference and stopped to wait for him. Hedo had a giant smile as he hugged Prunty “My man, my man.”
It was time for a beer. Kadıköy was more restful than Friday but still had enough activity to sit and watch the world go by. Sunday is rest day. Time to chill.
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