Oguz Savas was the hero as he led a late rally for Turkey to top New Zealand in Bilbao. In a game Turkey nearly threw away more than once, the Fenerbahce big man took over when it mattered to bring his side back from 12 points down and claim a win on the opening day of the FIBA World Cup. Emmet Ryan reports from the Bizkaia Arena.
After the novelty of the Haka was over and done with, New Zealand and Turkey got to work in a game that was high on pace but low on scores early. To be entirely honest, that was fine as these were two squads happy to bang into each other at will so every rebound brought the opportunity for contact. New Zealand moved into an early lead, with Tai Webster staying clear of the physical stuff to drain a couple of jumpers. Isaac Fotu, who has simply fantastic hair, tried to be clever by faking the outside pass and switching to the one-handed pass inside but in this quarter only straight-up play was delivering. New Zealand however were doing plenty of things right and Ergin Ataman was forced to call a second timeout of the quarter as the Tall Blacks led by 9 late in the first. They were good for that lead through the end of the frame.
A pair of threes from Emir Preldzic early in the second woke Turkey from its slumber but Omer Asik essentially a passenger so far, New Zealand were enjoying plenty of freedom to keep their offence ticking over. Oguz Savas came in and immediately had an impact with the slowest of step back jumpers. Defensively however Savas isn’t the man you want to turn to and sure enough the holes were there for the Kiwis to exploit. A Corey Webster three pushed New Zealand into a double digit lead and, even with Casey Frank sitting due to foul trouble, they maintained control of the game. Threes were keeping the Kiwis on top, Corey Webster made their sixth of the game with 2 minutes left in the half as the Tall Blacks responded to every adjustment Turkey made. Rob Loe hit their seventh and ended up falling hard on his back and the lead was 11. New Zealand had started the livelier and Turkey were still trying to work their way into the game as it neared the interval. At the half New Zealand led 38-28.
Loe and Kirk Penney kept the three-point train rolling for the Kiwis early in the third but the pace was noticeably slower than the frenetic opening 20 minutes. Turkey were looking to slow the game down and their more organised approach saw them play much sharper on offence to open the third. New Zealand weren’t able to rock around the rim to the same degree as they had in the first half but still found room for quality shots. Turkey had managed to stop New Zealand from pulling away but they still looked a long way from reeling in the Tall Blacks. Slowly but surely Turkey started to make progress. It wasn’t thrilling but mid-way through the third, they had turned this into a one-possession game. Baris Harsek and Thomas Abercrombie traded threes before Turkey finally retook the lead for the first time since their opening bucket through a pair of Preldzic free throws with 2.09 left in the third. Now the pressure was well and truly on New Zealand. Mistakes were becoming more frequent, passes were overthrown, handles were lost, and Turkey were sticking to a basketball by the numbers game to take advantage. New Zealand couldn’t risk changing course because it was the freedom that allowed such errors that was keeping them in the fight. Having reclaimed the lead, Frank made a fingertip block to give New Zealand one last chance to score in the quarter and Fotu delivered to give the Kiwis a 56-52 lead entering the fourth.
Within a minute of the resumption the double-digit lead was restored, aided in part from a couple of frees off a questionable technical called against Turkey at the end of the third. Turkey, having slowly ground their way back into the game were suddenly down 64-52 with just 8 minutes to go. Like the third, Turkey tried to gradually cut into the lead but Corey Webster and Fotu were aggressive on offence to keep New Zealand in the clear. Then Oguz Savas took over.
Savas rallied Turkey with back to back scores, including an and-one, and then Corey Webster got T-ed up to put Savas at the line once more. With the stands rattling hand the Turkish fans sensing a comeback he made both and scored again on the subsequent possession. Kerem Tunceri levelled matters before a Preldzic three forced New Zealand to call a timeout. The threes which had flowed so freely for New Zealand weren’t landing anymore. Having dominated for large stretches, the Tall Blacks were up against the wall. Corey Webster had a chance to tie it up with 18 seconds on the clock but he rimmed out. Jarrod Kenny had one more chance. No good. Turkey survived.