Italy were woeful but did enough to get their first win of EuroBasket 2015 while Iceland won everybody’s respect, writes Emmet Ryan
A quintet of early threes gave Iceland hope against Italy in Berlin. The half full arena had smatterings of Italian in various spots while the Icelandic fans were all gathered in one spot to the right of the media area. Before the game I ran into some Italy fans who were confident but a little wary after Germany had made work of Iceland yesterday. Marco Belinelli and Alessandro Gentile did their best to allay their fears as Italy’s offence got off to a hot start despite Iceland’s explosion from deep. The sluggish first half display from Saturday’s narrow loss to Turkey was clearly on their minds. Defensively Italy hadn’t fixed an awful lot although playing Iceland’s super small ball takes time to get used to. Offensively however they were firing on all cylinders and notably weren’t leaning on Danilo Gallinari to get things going. Iceland however were taking Italy’s poor D as an open invite and they finally got things together on the inside late in the frame. After 10 minutes, Italy led 22-21.
The pace dropped a smidgen in the second, which gave me time to check my tweets, but Italy remained perplexed by Iceland’s game. Germany had a burst against the North Atlantic underdogs to stretch the game before the break on Saturday, here Italy were low on ideas on how to buid a similar lead. Iceland run. Iceland run a lot. They don’t move, they run. It doesn’t look like basketball, I’m not sure what it looks like, but it looked to be working as midway through the second Iceland were hanging tight and a pair of Haukur Palsson threes gave them the lead. Part of the Italian mentality for this game must have been get the win and get to the rest day as quickly as possible. That’s fine so long as you actually get the W and Italy were making awfully hard work of this. With Gallinari hardly being used in the first half, Italy needed to build on the fast start. Instead they were now crawling on offence and were playing the same one-on-one hunting game that had got them in trouble against Turkey. Still, at least they had the highlight of Andrea Bargnani making back to back blocks.
With the Italian defence finally showing some life, they were able to regain some control but it still wasn’t pretty out there. With half-time looming, the early spark had all but fizzled out. Italy held the lead, 41-37, at the break but the performance was far from heartening.
Any hopes Italy had that Iceland would prove easier to solve in the second half were quickly swept aside as the North Atlantic side came out swinging. It wasn’t the prettiest game of basketball but Iceland kept forcing error after Italian error. Offensively the underdogs were only doing enough to stay neck and neck with their star-studded opponents but they had Italy flustered. Against Turkey, Gallo came big, now they were leaning on Gentile but he wasn’t getting any real support. Italy were in a fight and in danger of staring down an 0-2 record after two days. Italy were ahead, 52-48, but they looked vulnerable.
It took Iceland barely a minute to get back on level terms before a pair of Daniel Hackett scores got Italy back on top. Hackett had been pretty dire through this one but was finally coming up at the business end of proceedings. Gallo fouled out with 6 minutes left after a non event of a display and Iceland sensed an opportunity and Palsson made it a one possession game. Whatever was going to happen here, Chris Fleming and the German team had to be inspired as Italy looked to have learnt nothing in two days of action. Iceland had no concern with Germany’s future because they were too busy trying to beat Italy today. Hordur Vilhjalmsson put them ahead and with 3.22 to go Simone Piangiani had to wonder what he needed to do to save his side. Iceland, best know for Magnus Ver Magnusson, the block who plays The Mountain in Game of Thrones, and names that are difficult to spell…including Hafthor Julius Bjornsson who plays The Moutain…were givig a team loaded with NBA and Euroleague level talent a big fright. Belinelli tied things up at the line but with 3 minutes left this was still as live a game as it gets.
Pietro Aradori’s bucket to give Italy the lead got a massive roar from the Italians present, one filled with relief. It would ended up giving Italy the lead for good. After two days they are 1-1. The manner of the victory shouldn’t matter but Italy look like a team in dire need of improvement if they are to progress to Lille.