Italy came to Istanbul with a plan and their goal was to essentially kill basketball. Sasa Djordjevic was having none of it and neither for that matter were his bigs. Emmet Ryan on how Serbia put Italy to the sword in a clinical display that was their most accomplished of the tournament to date
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turn’d his balls to gun-stones; and his soul
Shall stand sore charged for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them: for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock mock out of their dear husbands;
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down;
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn.
– Henry V, Act I, Scene II
Italy were already playing with house money at this stage of the tournament. That was the last kind of opponent Serbia needed. Their strength had been in battles with evenly matched foes, the chance of a banana skin before the medal rounds held no appeal to Sasa Djordjevic. With his side’s shooting vile throughout the competition, a clash against a gun happy side with nothing to lose was worrisome.
The start for Djordjevic’s men wasn’t inspiring. While his defence was keeping Italy restricted to staying clear of the paint, the minutes ticked by with nothing on the board for the favourites. Once Ognjen Kuzmic clumsily tried to move over Gigi Datome, Djordjevic had seen enough. It was time for the Bobinator.
The road was cleared by Boban Marjanovic as Bogdan Bogdanovic glided in to get Serbia off the mark midway through the quarter. The cavernous arena, crowds here have been pitiful since Turkey’s exit, was filled with boos. This was dreadful fare aesthetically and it felt too kind to credit Italy coach Ettore Messina with finding a way to kill the game early but it did meet his modus operandi. His offensive options were still desperately imited and the arrival of Boban had gone exactly as anyone would have expected.
The lack of actual basketball still served the Italian master. With the game turgid, Italy could keep hide their weakest players on the floor and lean on their stars. Then the threes came. First Ariel Filloy and then Marco Belinelli. Italy were trying to bring the Serbian D out a touch. It was slow but the method to Italy’s game was becoming clear. Messina was dragging both teams down with his approach, knowing that if Italy could play a game even slower than they usually did they could get under the skin of their opponents. Still, at the end of the first Serbia led 18-17.
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Serbia picked up the pace to start the second and Messina didn’t like it one bit. The reinsertion of Kuzmic and a spark from Milan Macvan had Serbia moving through the D easily. Marco Cusin looked dejected as Kuzmic dunked in wide open space. This was always going to be a long night for the Italian 5 but there was a plan he had to stick to.
The fight here wasn’t for points but pace. Italy were dragging it down hard as they might but every miss gave Serbia a chance to push it. The Bogdan and Boban outside-inside plan was working neatly. Messina needed another chat with his lads. The hug and gun simply wasn’t hurting Serbia.
Boban was in his element. Nicolo Melli and Gigi Datome hung off him as he waited for the foul call. Then the whip out pass to Vladimir Lucic for the three. Nobody but Boban sets the pace for the big guy. With occasional triple coverage, Boban didn’t even have to move to benefit Serbia as their guards raced around to collect offensive boards.
As the half neared Italy looked to match Serbia’s pace but the return of Kuzmic made this a futile approach. Messina’s needed a new idea and fast. At the break Serbia looked well on top, leading 44-33.
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Out Serbia came to the edge of the arc on D. They were starting the second half taunting Italy, daring them to bully by Kuzmic or outrun anybody else. Djordjevic wanted to exhaust Italy. He could let them get some reward for their efforts so long as they got gassed. The gap was his side’s to defend as they saw fit and he wanted to see panting Italian faces.
Macvan to Kuzmic for the soft score as Gigi tasted the floor. The old master on the Italy bench was being mocked by the bullying Serbs. The scores were flowing easy as they stretched the sorry Italians. This was the Serbia Djordjevic had wanted to see. Let Belinelli throw himself around trying hero ball, all he would do is get sore in the process. Boban got bored inside and eventually found he was all alone with no defender to fight. Might as well score so.
An occasional lack of fluency on offence slowed the ability of Serbia to hammer home the advantage on the scoreboad but they were cruising and they knew it. Italy were already on fumes as they were brutally toyed with during the third quarter.
Paul Biligha was the only Italian covering himself in glory as he embraced the challenge of Serbia’s size. As loose balls tossed in the air, Biligha reached, tipped, and found ways to slow the Serbian advance. This was no berserker at Stamford Bridge, the lines had long been broken and he was trying to bring order to the rubble of Italy’s forces. With 10 minutes to play, Serbia had retained their half time advantage to lead 59-48.
Wearily Italy plodded up the floor. To what end such an effort now. The Leader of Horde was pulling up for jumpers for fun and his buddies were all fresh. Away with your nonsense Belinelli, as Kuzmic swatted his feeble effort.
Marjanovic returned to pile on the pain and Cusin gave a crestfallen Melli a rest. Italy tried to press hard on D, forcing a Macvan effort to go wildly off but thrice Serbia retained possession. All for nought from the Azzurri as Dragan Milosavljevic finished at the fifth time of asking.
Less than half a quarter remained and Italy were still in a hole. Datome’s scoring the only thing keeping this relevant. His former team mate reminded him from deep why it wasn’t worth the fight. Serbia’s advantage unchallenged, no miracle hiding in Messina’s mind. All he could do now was hope for an improbably collapse. A faint cry of MVP rang out for Bogdanovic.
Eventually the Italians got the mercy they needed from the horn. A third straight exit at the last eight. Serbia advance for a much-desired re-match with Russia in the semi-finals. Djordjevic has payback in mind.
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