Bogdan Bogdanovic fought like a lion, Aleksa Avramovic kept popping up in key moments, but it wasn’t enough as Dennis Schroeder and Franz Wagner led Germany past Serbia to win the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Welcome to East Belgrade
Heaven knows how much the thousands of Serbia fans that weren’t here on Friday spent to get here but there was no doubt who the ‘home’ team was. I had picked Serbia to win this but even I didn’t expect this many of their fans to turn up.
It was a cagey start. Far from the free flowing ball that either team had played in their semi final encounters. That favoured Serbia slightly but Svetislav Pesic hardly wanted to put the brakes on Bogdan Bogdanovic. It wasn’t fear, it was well-informed caution from both sides early. They were both more than happy to make this a war on the inside in the early going.
Now we’re cooking
A dunk from Johannes Voigtmann for Germany woke things up. This was immediately followed by Vanja Marinkovic of Serbia and Andreas Obst trading threes. We had a battle on our hands but it was getting more fluid.
The under rated aspect of Serbia’s game was Nikola Militunov’s passing. He had 4 assists in the game’s first 8 minutes, a fine impersonation of Nikola Jokic. This was not the Militunov of EuroBasket 2022, who looked like he had concrete sneakers on. The defending from both sides was of a most pestering nature. Moritz Wagner needed a minor miracle to get an outlet pass to Isaac Bonga for a missed three attempt. Marko Guduric was under all kinds of pressure when he tried on on the next possession. So Marinkovic figured, what the heck, he just nailed a three over heavy D.
Franz Wagner gets it
No lead is safe in basketball. That being said, you don’t want to get in a hole against a team like Serbia. Even a lead of high single digits can seem onerous as it allows them to impose their game on you. Franz Wagner was having none of that. He raced through for a lay-up from a nicely placed Johannes Thiemann pass to ensure Serbia didn’t start building a cushion early in the second. He quickly hit the double digit mark in points as he assumed the leadership role for Germany.
The German interior D was gambling but winning. An aggressive approach was winning them turnovers and forcing some extremely unappealing shots. With Serbia looking the stronger in transition, it made for a fascinating battle on the whole.
But you want to know about Dennis Schroeder
Dennis Schroeder is the narrative of the Germany national team. He was quiet but effective early, only taking 3 shots in his first 10 minutes of play and making two of them. Schroeder was also happy to defer as chief creator, possibly with an eye on ball security.
It certainly reduced the risk of transition issues for Germany but it also somewhat slowed them offensively. Schroeder is a competitor at heart and he needs to be in the heart of the fight. Instead he was dipping in and out, when perhaps a more emotional impact was required. A turnover due to an 8 second violation, of all things, was what got his juices flowing.
Dennis was annoyed and was having none of it. He got all up in Bogdan Bogdanovic’s face as Bogi tried to feed Militunov. The big man got the ball but not in a good spot and Schroeder turned it into a Germany three in transition. Then he defend Bogi well on the following possession, as though he had decided on his dance partner for the evening.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is here
The harrying of Schroeder notwithstanding, Bogdan was far from quiet in the early going but he wasn’t exactly at full tilt. That changed in the middle of the second quarter as he was quick to react to a Stefan Jovic and nail one from deep. Then came a block on Franz Wagner and FIBA Bogi was here.
A nice touch was how this allowed Aleksa Avramovic, who has been the best perimeter defender at this tournament, to get going offensively. With Bogi drawing so much attention, the Partizan man was able to get into some great spots late in the half. It meant things were all lovely and tight and had set us up for a fascinating final 20 minutes.
This game was a mission for Bogdanovic. Three finals in a Serbia jersey, four if you count youth play, and silver every time.
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Hello Mr Pesic
The second half began in the most European way possible, with Svetislav Pesic getting upset with the referees. In the opening couple of minutes, he showed his frustration to them a couple of times over calls. This is far from an act. Pesic is a bit wild in press conferences these days but he always has a plan.
His side were playing the tight and competitive game he wanted to open the third quarter but the execution wasn’t perfect. Pesic giving the referees grief was a way of not doing it directly to the players. They understood the message, they always do. Execute better, give the boss less reason to moan to anyone.
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Leading by example
Both Bogdan Bogdanovic and Dennis Schroeder decided to put a fire under the backsides of their team mates by driving hard. For Bogdan however it was proving more challenging. That’s because Germany had brought the meat to Nikola Militunov.
Voigtmann and Daniel Theis were combining to make his life miserable on the interior. As the only true big for Serbia, it was an obvious area for Germany to target. Gordie Herbert had been patient in giving Militunov the heavy treatment up to now. As with the semi-final against the USA, he didn’t want to force too much on his giant pair early. Now they were free to be as aggressive as they wanted.
An actual gap
This was, for the bulk of the first three quarters, ludicrously tight on the scoreboard. A technical foul on Militunov changed that. It led to Schroeder, with an and-1, and Bonga from the line pushing Germany into a 9 point lead. That was comfortably the largest of the game to that point and was the first time a hard question was asked of either Germany or Serbia.
A pair of missed free throws from Dejan Davidovac only added to the nerves. It felt like it was all Germany at this stage. Serbia’s offence was stuttering hard. With 10 minutes to play, Germany could almost taste the gold medals in their mouths.
Now comes the toughness
Serbia had 10 minutes. They didn’t need to rush their scoring if they could slow Germany’s to a crawl. That’s exactly what they did as Aleksa Avaramovic and Filip Petrusev did the fighting inside. As my friend Ian likes to say, this was a time for men.
Moritz Wagner knows toughness too. The self-admitted wild man missed what should have been an easy putback. Then he got back down the floor to draw an offensive foul from Petrusev. If Serbia were going to tough this one out, he was happy to return the favour.
Scrape, claw, and fight
Avramovich came up with a big three to remind Serbia they were still in a contest but there was a concern in the background. Bogdan Bogdanovic was on 4 fouls by the mid-point of the quarter. Added to this was Militunov sitting, while on one foul. The only explanation was that he was hurt. This was not going to be easy for Serbia but it sure wasn’t going to be for Germany either.
Franz Wagner made a steal that he knew little about. He followed that up with a defensive board that drew a foul and put him at the line. With just over 2 minutes to play, Germany was holding on and looking increasingly comfortable in the brawl.
Still Serbia fought. Bogdanovic, Avramovic, and Guduric combining to make it a one score game entering the final minute. Dennis Schroeder, who else, with the drive to give Germany the gap to work with. Then from the line, he closed the deal. A perfect tournament with the perfect roster to get the job done. Victory was theirs.
The fourth quarter was one for the purists. Serbia made it a drawn out fight because they had to. It wasn’t enough but that requires some perspective. Going into this tournament, missing around a half dozen names that would normally make the roster, little was expected. They played smart, effective, and, aside from that one quarter, thrilling basketball. A silver medal is a tough result but a good one.
For Germany, this is the type of moment that could be enormous for the sport in the country. That’s a discussion for another day. They are the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup champions with a perfect 8-0 record. Dennis Schroeder got hot when he needed to but the real story was their depth. Germany had the muscle on the inside, the skill on the wing, and the creativity in the back court. Right now, they are the total package in basketball. Will they be favoured to win gold in Paris? Who cares. They won gold in Manila, and against the man who led them to their only previous triumph.