It was a masterful performance from Kristaps Porzingis as Latvia moved to 2-1 in group play with the New York Knicks man toying with Great Britain throughout, despite a fine rally by the underdogs in the final quarter. A huge day for Davis Bertans from deep almost went unnoticed as Porzingis stamped his authority on this game. Emmet Ryan reports from Istanbul
Kristaps couldn’t have started this much better. A dunk from Latvia’s opening possession. Then a three. Then a putback dunk, with a pair of rebounds sandwiched in between. Then, you guessed it, a third dunk. The New York Knicks big man was showing no sign of the stomach complaints that reportedly affected many members of the Latvian in their hotel on Sunday. With a massive size mismatch over Britain’s Gabe Olaseni, it was all too easy for Porzingis to just take over early.
Britain switched the longer but less powerful Dan Clark onto Porzingis out of a timeout. Clark is, in many ways, a prototype of what Porzingis is now. Tall, good three, far happier on the outside but able to find shots on the interior. Porzingis is not so much Clark 2.0 as the complete reimagining him building from the best parts up. Another three, then a block. We hadn’t hit the midway point of the first quarter yet and Porzingis was already on course for a nonsensical stat line.
While Porzingis was doing oodles on his own, Latvia weren’t able to shake Great Britain early. The one thing Joe Prunty has known throughout this tournament is that his side can shoot. While Olaseni may not have been able to live with Porzingis one-on-one, it’s no accident that he was leading the tournament in efficiency coming into this game and he kept the scoreboard ticking over. Latvia led 25-20 at the end of the first but Great Britain were far from lying down for them.
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Kristaps returned for the started of the second quarter. We had to wait all of 90 seconds for his first dunk. Despite a four point play from Davis Bertans, Latvia were making awfully hard work of shaking Great Britain. Fun as it was for the Latvian fans in the stands to watch Kristaps put on a show, Ainars Bagatskis would have rathered a more straightforward game that would allow him to rest the like of Porzingis and the Bertans brothers.
As it was, Davis was putting in a solid stint alongside Kristaps as the two NBA players looked to put some room between the sides. Credit to Great Britain who sought to mix things up, bringing Eric Boateng and Andrew Lawrence more into the offence.
Finally a mistake from Porzingod. He failed to finish and alley-oop. So he came wringt back down the other end and made his second block of the day. With Davis piling it on, Latvia finally had some space between the sides. Another three from Kristaps. He moved past 20 points for the day with, what else, a dunk.
Normal service resumed as Porzingis made his fourth three of the day to open Latvia’s second half account. Davis moved to 7 of 8 from deep with ease as Latvia piled on the points early. Such was the dominance of Porzingis in this one that it was hard to notice just how big a game the San Antonio Spurs man was having. Likewise the string of assists being put together by Janis Strelnieks was flying under the radar. It was simple. Kristaps was dominating to such a degree that it was hard to look past his brilliance.
When Janis Blums nailed a three with all the time in the world, the game was long over as a contest. Latvia were up 23 points and the only question now was how much Bagatskis would use his starters in the final 12 minutes or so. With 10 minutes to play Latvia led 84-58.
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The fourth began with the Blums show, the veteran giving the Latvian fans plenty to cheer about. A mini resurgence from Great Britain however forced Bagatskis to call in the troops midway through the frame. Porzingis still sat, as the Davis. The Baltic nation was still comfortably ahead and there was no need to put his stars back out there yet. Eventually, with less than 4 minutes to go, Porzingis returned as much to give the fans who had stayed another sighting of him before the death as anything else.
He joked with Olaseni. THe British big man may have been dwarfed by Porzingis but he had put in another fine stint in blue and red. Britain rallied hard towards the end and made sure this game finished far closer than it looked like it was going to for most of the 40 minutes. Another moral victory for GB, another fine day for Kristaps Porzingis.
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