A fantastic first half from Turkey proved crucial as they had just enough to get the win over Italy as Day 1 of EuroBasket 2015 in Berlin drew to a close, writes Emmet Ryan
It was probably the least discussed game of Day 1 before the tournament but the mood around the media room in Berlin was that Turkey and Italy’s clash here could well be the most important of Day 1. Turkey were hoping that Ali Muhammad formerly Bobby Dixon, the man that led Karsiyaka to the TBL title this summer, could bring the same magic with him to Berlin and he took little time to set up Semih Erden for an easy dunk. Italy had enjoyed a hot start in a game with an energetic opening. Marco Belinelli had given them an early advantage but Sinan Guler was his usually self and was a terrier on the floor for Turkey. The Italians have plenty of star power with Danilo Gallinari, Luigi Datome, Alessandro Gentile, and the prodigal son Andrea Bargnani all here in Berlin. Turkey however are the hot developing nation in Europe. While their trips to the last two EuroBaskets were ugly, there’s talent coming through. It’s managing that transition that Ergin Ataman has to deal with and, oddly, veteran American-born Muhammad is playing a key role in that to give Cedi Osman the type of space the young man needs to operate. This site has joked about his Head & Shoulders ads inadvertently making him a globally recognised face but the kid showed promise in Spain last year, more with Efes this season, and has a chance to make a real impact in this competition.
Early on however it was a quiet affair for the youngster as Italy hung well with Ataman’s charges, Since leaving Siena for an ill-fated adventure with Fenerbahce, Simone Piangiani hasn’t enjoyed the best of times and an Ersan Ilyasova three to push Turkey into a 6 point lead as his own charges hit the foul limit with over 4 minutes to play in the frame didn’t help matters. Piangiani is a delight for the media, mainly because only Sasa Obradovic can compete with him in the gesticulation department, but Italy needed the energy in his arms to transfer to their performance on the floor. It was some clunky stuff from them early and Turkey looked far more awake in the opening 10 minutes. Italy looked like they had been on the beer with me last night and Ersan Ilyasova was making them pay. Turkey, not noted for their offensive efficiency, were ripping Italy to shreds. Osman found his wash and rinse game late in the frame to put Turkey into a 26-13 lead at the end of the first.
Muhammad kept doing his thing, more often from mid range than we saw in that title run, but his ability to find space for the step back shot hadn’t changed a bit. Italy were keeping Turkey in a tit for tat situation early in the second without making any real headway. Bargnani was getting buckets but Turkey had no trouble in a shootout situation. Muhammad looked like, dare I say it, the answer. The spacing this team was crying out for in Spain was back with authority. Turkey have always been able to grind but now they were able to use their size at full speed. At this stage in the contest holding theirown was all Italy could hope for but Gallinari gave them a touch of life as the break neared. Ataman called a timeout when the lead was cut to 10. Italy brought extra pressure on Dixon to force a turnover and Gentile dunked on the fast-break. Muhammad responded the only way he knows how, dancing around three taller men to make the easy lay-up. At the half Italy looked awake but Turkey looked well on top and good for their 51-42 lead at the half.
Italy came out strong to start the second half because they simply had to. Bargs and Hackett cut into the Turkish lead but the team that usually goes by the 12 Giant Men moniker was playing a nice varied game to keep their noses in front. Italy weren’t simply going to waltz back in here. This frame finally say them moving the ball with regularity however, after a first half dominated by players hunting for one on one opportunities. It was a slow and patient approach and they made some ground. Turkey no longer looked like they were in full control as we hit the late stages of the third. A Gallinari bucket made it a one possesion game as we entered the final 2 minutes of the frame. If ever there was a time for the deep thinking Ataman to change things up it was now. His charges held a 66-61 lead with 10 minutes to play.
Turkey couldn’t buy a bucket in the early stages of the final quarter. It wasn’t even down to shot selection, the ball danced around the rim a couple of times on shots that looked like they were going in. With Gallinari in flying form, Italy were right back in this. Muhammad, largely shut down as a scorer in the second half, was finding room to create but the bodies around him weren’t finishing. Turkey were however doing just enough to keep ahead. Every time Italy made it a one score game, somebody stepped up. Be it Muhammad from the line or Mahmutoglu from deep. Then Semih Erden brought the house down. This was the macro picture to take in. Erden has been utterly frustrating for far too long, in this new look Turkish offence he was a legitimate threat. Next time he got the ball, another fast break jam. This was the Semih Erden his true believers have been trying to convince the rest of us exists. Turkey were back on top and Italy now needed action in a hurry.
Gentile answered the call from deep but, again and again, Erden was there to hurt Italy inside. If we take anything from this game it’s that we may not know Turkey’s ceiling but we all definitely under-stated. Gallinari made it a one-possession game again from deep but Osman answered right back. This was a Turkish team that couldn’t be intimidated and was willing to take on Italy in a shootout. The problem was that Gallo was everywhere and he looked capable of saving Italy on his own. With 1.39 left this inspired Turkish side was only up 83-81. Up stepped Semih Erden, fron the line, 2 for 2, and Turkey could breathe a little…until Belinelli nailed a three. Then everything was ready to go to hell. With the clock ticking the ball was in Muhammad’s hands and he couldn’t make it happen. Italy had 9.2 seconds to tie or win down 88-86. Gallo got to the line and went 1 for 2. The pressure was back on the coolest man in the building who was somehow also Semih Erden. He went one of two. It was enough. Turkey won.