It should never have been this close but Alexey Shved reminded every young player why they should practice their free throws. After a dominant first half, Serbia had to grind out victory over Russia to book their place in the final of EuroBasket 2017. Emmet Ryan writes that we saw the leadership of Bogdan Bogdanovic when it mattered as he kept his cool down the stretch to seal victory
A new slate for Serbia? After getting outsmarted, outcoached, and outplayed in their Group D meeting with Russia that was the plan. The sorry shooting, predicatable game plan, and downright lack of invention in that game simply could not be repeated if Serbia were to progress.
Russia wanted another wrinkle. Sergey Bazarevich had pulled a bunch from his bag of trips in the group phase but he simply had to have something more to his plan if he had serious notions of getting Russia to a first final since 2007.
Well Sasa Djordjevic definitely had a new plan alright. Stefan Bircevic had only played serious minutes in Serbia’s facile win over Great Britain up to now but was given the start here and brought a spark to the offence from the off. Ognjen Kuzmic had also clearly been given orders to get more aggressive on offence, not much of an ask given his timidity on that front up to now, as Serbia looked to bring a fast and penetrating game early in this one.
Russia brought a touch more power up the gut than they normally started with, letting Andrey Vorontsevich charge in right behind Timofey Mozgov and we had a pretty offensively heavy opening to this game. The commitment Kuzmic was making offensively was leaving Serbia a little too open in the paint on D and Russia were casually countering the quick blows inflicted by Djordjevic’s side.
Bogdan Bogdanovic was essentially the difference in the early going, getting off to a hot start scoring and finding ways to accelerate Serbia’s game at both ends. With Alexey Shved still cold, the Leader of Horde was taking advantage.
As Bogdan sat, Shved hit the mark from deep. Serbia were doing far more of the work here but Russia were hanging around with little difficulty. With Russia switching to a smaller line-up however it was easier for Boban Marjanovic to just knock people about on the inside. Bazarevich was banking on himore agile look early. It largely kept pace with Serbia but the move looked physically taxing on the ragdolled Vladimir Ivlev. After 10 minutes Serbia led 25-20.
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We got our first real Mozgov vs Marjanovich spell of the game to start the second with Boban taking the opening exchange. A poor pass from Vladimir Lucic was easily recovered by the big guy and he strolled right around Mozgov for the lay-up.
Serbia were wisely not going with the same ‘just feed Boban’ game that had made them so predictable in the previous clash between this sides. Instead they were using Marjanovic more to keep the Russian D honest while they moved the ball around outside. Boban continued to be a useful piece out there, easily out-muscling Mozgov for a defensive board and scoring on the next possession.
Bogdanovic was back in and his battle with Shved became far more direct with the Russian leader looking to draw him in and free up space while Marjanovich remained on the floor. While Shved was able to make Bogdan over-commit, the Sacramento Kings rookie was still keeping things flowing nicely for Serbia’s offence.
Bazarevich went small again but Bogdan kept finding holes. Now Boban was unchallenged as he leapt for boards and the switch was only serving Serbia. A quick flurry of scores from the duo moved Serbia’s lead from 6 to 14 and Bazarevich needed to re-think his plans.
Back came Mozgov but Russia still looked to run, leading to most adorably slow chasedown attempt by Marjanovic on a long two attempt by Dmitry Kulagin. The next move was just slick, a bounce pass with Mozgov all up in his business to set up a soft score by Lucic.
The final exchanges saw the first sighting of Vladimir Stimac during a relevant part of a knockout game in this tournament. It gave Mozgov a break from the personal beat-down but did little else to help Russia. At the half Serbia were on top 48-34.
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Kuzmic came back in to start the third and Russia seemed relieved of the extended break from the Bobinator. The new signing of Real Madrid looked a touch more timid offensively but Serbia still had Bogdan and he rocked a long three early in the frame.
Defensively Kuzmic was fully on point and he was happy to let Mozgov overwork himself while Serbia’s guards raced away on fast breaks. Bogdan however was still over-committing on Shved and needlessly got into foul trouble, picking up his third with a wild leap right after jumping too early on the shot.
Stefan Jovic to Lucic for the alley-oop. Even with Bogdan’s tendency to give in to temptation, the rest of Serbia were still rocking along nicely.
Russia got a mini rally going via Shved and Vitaly Fridzon before Bogdan sat. Djordjevic changed things up by bringing Boban back in with 4 minutes to play in the quarter. The lead had only dropped to 10 but it felt like this was the shot Russia were going to get to get back in this one.
A flush dunk from Mozgov and the Russian machine was starting to believe. Having spent most of their first half timeouts being berated by Bazarevich with little actual adjustment, things were coming together. Sure enough, Vorontsevich landed his third three of the night to cut the gap to 5.
A nervousness had entered the Serbian offence. One Russian run had put them off their rhythm and Djordjevic felt compelled to bring Bogdan back in. His first touch was an assist on a Dragan Milosavljevic three. Boban restored the double digit lead soon after. A Jovic deuce all but erased Russia’s run and Serbia seemeed to realise they had that other gear.
Serbia suffered a setback down the backside of the frame with Stefan Jovic going off with what appeared to be an ankle injury. The scoreboard however still looked good for them. With 10 minutes to play they led 66-57.
Those nerves were right back for Serbia at the start of the final frame before a Marko Guduric three settled things down. Ahead of the game a couple of Serbian journalists reckoned he and Lucic would need to get 20 between them for the W, admittedly they hadn’t banked on Boban doing quite as well as he had, but the duo had combined for 14 with 8 minutes still to play. Close enough to the required pace at this stage of proceedings. When Russia got a little bit of the lead down, Bogdan was there. Serbia were far from cruising but they had control as long as their leader was on the floor.
Djordjevic turned back to Boban again as he sought to enter closeout mode a little earlier than he’d have liked. The big guy put one over Mozgov right away. This wasn’t the smooth game that had beaten Russia up for 20 minutes but it was working. The lead was back to 10 and Russia had all kinds of foul trouble.
Shved looked to take charge. He was only so so from the field but he had been getting to the line repeatedly all night long. The other pieces took notice and let him dictate. Two threes either side of a fast break dunk by Andrey Zubkov cut the gap to 2 points and brought Shved’s personal tally for the night to 30.
Djordjevic went back to his bench and Vasilije Micic delivered from deep. He couldn’t risk Bogdan running out of steam or Boban fouling out. All Serbia needed was to slow Russia’s comeback and they would be fine.
Bogdan came back in but the game continued to stutter. Milosavljevic got the shout from Sasa to replace Micic. Defensively, with Macvan, Kuzmic, and Lucic on the floor, this was Djordjevic’s best line-up. Bogdan got the message and made a three.
Down the stretch he was the closer. Whatever Shved did, Bogdan was ready to react. Pressure brings out a sense of calm in Bogdan. When the game is tight, he’s happy to have the ball in his hands and ready to take the decisive shots. Tonight they landed and, for the first time since 2009, Serbia are in the final of EuroBasket.
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