It wasn’t one for the aesthetes but Russia eventually overcame a dogged Belgian side that kept on their tails for the full 40 minutes. After the disciplined brilliance of their win over Serbia, this was a far more sluggish display by the Group D leaders but getting to 3-0 at EuroBasket 2017 in one piece is all that really matters, writes Emmet Ryan
This game had the banana skin label going into it for Russia and it sure looked like one early on. Save for an Air Mozgov moment, it was all Belgium in the early going. Jean Marc Mwema was posting up nicely as Belgium harried the Russians through the opening exchanges. The bruising of Mwema and Kevin Tumba left plenty of space for Belgium to play small ball and race into a 13-6 lead midway through the frame.
Mosgov hadn’t been starting for Russia because Sergey Bazarevich didn’t want to risk him getting into foul trouble early. It took him all of 3 minutes to pick up his first. This was just ugly hoops from a Russian side that showed poise and confidence less than 48 hours earlier in victory over Serbia.
So yeah, they went to Alexey Shved to do Shved things and a pair of threes brought some order to things for Russia. It wasn’t quite break glass to bring in Nikita Kurbanov time yet but with little else working for Bazarevich early on, that seemed like an obvious approach to take. A third three from Shved put Russia on level terms for the first time since that game started and the unbeaten Group D leaders held a 19-18 lead after a scrappy first quarter.
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The second started off rather dull but Russia looked far more organised defensively than in the first frame. With the beginnings of a lead, Basarevich brought Shved back in. It didn’t seem to bother Belgium all that much as they hung with Russia comfortably. Mwema was still bullying along on both ends and Russia were in a proper game here.
Offensively Russia looked limp, epitomised by a shot clock violation they clearly didn’t see coming as the half neared its conclusion. At the break it was Russia up 35-33 but they had a lot of work to do.
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It took a few minutes for Russia to finally get some offensive rhythm but it eventually started to show as Vitaly Fridzon and Andrey Vorontsevich found opportunities from deep and that helped open the lane for Mosgov. It was an improvement but Russia still looked awfully uneven offensively and they were clearly struggling to find that extra gear to either out muscle or out gun the Belgians. Mwema, like a rash that won’t go away, kept on popping up at the most inconvenient of times for Russia.
Every time it looked like Russia were developing a bit of daylight, Belgium clawed right back. Belgium just weren’t going away. Russia had gotten the better of the quarter but this one was anything but done at 53-47 going into the fourth.
The Shved moments were coming intermittently but an under utilisation of Mosgov and Kurbanov was clearly hurting Russia. Basarevich, in his defence, clearly wanted both men fresh for Latvia, but he had to get this W first.
Eventually Kurbanov made the fadeaway and drew a foul to make it a 9 point game. Finally, Russia looked like they had some sort of command on this one. Lol jk, Belgium delivered three straight stops to get it down to 67-62 with plenty of time on the clock. Oh Russia, you just had to make it difficult.
The win was in the books, Russia can rest and look ahead to the far stiffer test of Latvia on Tuesday.
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