There was no question that Tyler Dorsey was the most impressive man on the court for Greece against Croatia. There was also no doubt that the fans were still going to treat Giannis Antetokounmpo’s every move with far more attention. Emmet Ryan on an extraordinary afternoon in Milan as Greece took down Croatia
Oh you could feel it in the air. The Greek fans had travelled to Milano in force and with more belief than in over a decade. Their Freak, their king, was leading them and they had cause to think this was their time. Thanasis would join Giannis on the floor in the starting line-up with Kostas completing the set of Antetokounmpo on the bench.
Everything pre tip-off felt more like a celebration than expectation. Giannis went over to the photographers at the baseline to do his pre-game bit for the cameras. It was a party, Greece were here to celebrate.
It, eh, took a while to actually look like that.
Tyler Dorsey had to stop an immediate slide before Giannis and Thanasis finally got the Greeks into their stride in the middle of the first. Then the roars really started to come. This was opening day, more Greeks will follow in the knockout stages and things could get eardrum piercing.
They were, of course, here to rally to the banner of their king. After his momentary stutter at the start of the game, Giannis gave the people what they wanted. Buckets, power, and moments.
With his side up 9 early in the second, he casually took a defensive rebound and the half court cleared in a blink. Croatia built a wall and he busted his way through before Karlo Matkovic became the necessary sacrifice that gave up a foul and sent him to the line.
Thanasis got in on the action too but, in truth, this was Dorsey’s show in the first half. The point guard dazzled inside and out, offensively and defensively, as he perplexed the Croatians no end. Mark Cuban may have been in Cologne to watch Luka Doncic play for Slovenia and see Dirk Nowitzki’s jersey retired but he must have been thrilled at how the newest Dallas Maverick was dominating top tier opponents.
Consider the quality of this Croatian line-up. Established NBA players in Bojan Bogdanovic, Dario Saric, and Ivica Zubac. The human embodiment of confidence that is Mario Hezonja. The unquestioned leadership and talent of Krunoslav Simon. All of it no answer for the Greeks.
It may not have been his day to steal the show but the MVP chants were already in full flow for Giannis as he stepped to the line early in the third. The double double was reached and the fans had the numerical reassurance that they hadn’t asked for. Giannis could turn it on and just wreck who he wanted when he wanted.
There would however be more room for Dorsey to steal the show. A rally by Croatia in the middle of the third made it a 2 point game out of nowhere. Up stepped the Mav to nail a three and offer some reassurances. Not to be completely outshone, Giannis swatted away a Bogdanovic effort a few moments later. Then a fastbreak jumper drew the and one call plus more MVP chants.
Things got a little bit grittier in the fourth as Giannis and Dorsey both sat but being able to call on one of, if not the, greatest players in the world right now really solves a lot of problems in this sport. Upon their return, despite some valiant stuff from Simon in particular, it was enough to see Greece home albeit in closer fashion than it looked for a long time.
It may not have been the coronation style performance that Greek fans had hoped before the game but they didn’t care. Their star had delivered, their team had delivered, and now they want them to keep delivering. Italy tomorrow, the hosts on paper. This won’t feel like home court for Italy. We’re in Athens-West, not Milano.