Without Giannis Anteotkounmpo, Greece looked like just another basketball team. With him, they were far too much for a Ukraine side that showed it’s of no mood to let the dream stop once it gets to Berlin
A refreshed Giannis Antetokounmpo came to play in the battle of unbeaten sides as he started padding the stat sheet early with a smooth but dominant display. Ukraine’s players certainly didn’t lack for courage or effort but there was little they could do early against the Greek Freak on two full days of rest. Throughout his first 7 minute stint, Antetokounmpo had no trouble breezing by Alex Len or whoever else stood before him. It looked effortless at time as he posted 9 points on 4 of 5 shooting and 4 rebounds before taking his first break of the day.
Without him on the floor, Greece look different. Thanasis was also sitting and Kostas Sloukas moved into a more traditional creator role with Kostas Papanikolaou and Dimitrios Agravanis upping their pestering of Ukrainian ball-handlers. It was a Greek side that simply had to work harder with the brothers sitting as Ukraine were able to match them move for move through the tail end of the opener.
The difference of Giannis sitting? A 9 point swing to Ukraine in less than 5 minutes and their first lead of the day. The +/- isn’t the prettiest of stats but it was telling early. Greece experimented a bit in his second stint on the floor, with Giannis at the 5 defensively but more of a ball handler and Georgios Papagiannis going to the 5 offensively.
Ukraine’s lack of quit even with Giannis on the floor was more than admirable. In Issuf Sanon, they have a play who few outside of hardcore European basketball junkies will have heard of but one that plays with heart and joy. With the scored tied at 32-32, Sanon put Giannis on the deck and then hit a three right in his face to put Ukraine back on top. There wasn’t a magic formula to this. Ukraine were playing simple basketball with four men and letting Sanon be a force of chaos. The tenacious Sanon pursued Giannis at the top of the key with 2 minutes left in the half, he almost got the steal directly but forced Giannis to the ground and the Freak gave up the travelling call.
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Sat amongst the Ukrainian journalists, a trio who had come to tell the story of their team to those dealing with everything back home, you could tell they were enjoying it but there was a touch of nerves too. They were almost afraid to believe so early because they feared the nerves they’d feel later.
A powerful and-1 dunk by Giannis roused the Greek supporters early in the third quarter. He cut the deficit to the minimum a few moments later and you could feel his presence being imposed on the game once again the same way it had in his opening spell. Then came the go-ahead lay-up and all seemed right with Greece as the Hellas chants got louder. Still Ukraine kept fighting in what felt like a 5 on 1 battle. The rest of Greece’s roster was contributing little offensively and Giannis had more than half (29) of Greece’s points when he put them back in front again 54-53. The one man gang kept on rolling, eventually sitting late in the third with the lead up to 9.
With the lead up to 14 by the end of the third, Giannis sat to start the fourth before coming in after a minute. Ukraine’s hopes of winning this had been extinguished. The MVP chants finally started, much later than usual but they were well deserved . A final line of 41 points from 71% shooting with 9 rebounds and 2 assists. The job was done and the margin of victory flattering but one thing was clear, Greece ride or die with Giannis Antetokounmpo.