Goran Dragi?'s first appearance in international games this summer gives Slovenia the edge over the resilient New Zealand in a friendly game in Kaunas (Lithuania).
Not surprisingly, Gogi did not start the game. The reason being two-fold: he's limited to 25 minutes per game for the friendlies and the starting five is sort of used to each other. Still, we're all looking forward to some Dragon magic.
Sovenia - New Zealand
80:74 (14:13, 13:24, 23:9, 30:28)
G. Dragi? 16, Z. Dragi? 13, D. Lorbek 12, Muri? 11; Webster 23.
Starting he game, nothing really pretty, a few made shots on both sides, quite a few unforced errors, not a lot of team-play. Basically, the ball is bouncing around like a hot potato. Slovenians are relying mostly on the 3-point shot and half-court offense, not their best point, as they are best in transition and playing fast. So far, the speed leaves a lot to be desired. Although Domen Lorbek did just use the best Dragonshake I ever saw him do, but the defense is still way too slow.
Here's hoping Gogi can make a difference, he just entered with his bro, 2 minutes to go in the first period. And immediately the defense picks up, forces a bad shot and a good assist in transition. It's a different team with the Dragi? brothers playing, 1 minute to go Slovenia is down by one. Goran's first step-back went wide but the last attack was classic Gogi- PnR on the 3-point line and Goran attacking the help with a strong move, pushing the defending center off in mid-air and finishing with a lay-up. After first, SLO:NZ 14:13 (don't laugh, it's normal(ish) for an international friendly).
Defense is still the better part of Slovenia's game, while offensively they keep relying on half-court sets and forced shots while giving the ball away. A big problem is also the physicality and height of the NZ's players, as SLO doesn't really have a strong paint presence. Goran is being hounded by the opposing players and as a result he missed his patented step-back, again. Plus, everything else Slovenians are doing is basically a 3-point shot, which is not falling. Maybe a time-out for the Slovenians will help.
5-minutes int the second period, not much to like on the SLO side, except for some good transition defense, but we are being man-handled everywhere else. And Goran missed a wide-open three, off the backboard. I guess the line is too close to the rim. New Zealand is playing very well., spacing the floor and then hitting the three or going hard to the rim, since there's no real defensive threat there and 8 minutes in the score is +11 for NZ who is doing a great job closing the paint since the 3-pt shot is not falling for Slovenians.
Two good shots by Edo Muri? and the score is only +7 for NZ.Never mind, it's a 10-point game again at the break. Gogi is not playing which is just as well, as the rest of the team is playing like a bunch of hungover logs. (Sorry for the outburst, I sometimes get carried away). Maybe things pick up in the second half, especially the transition offense, which is Slovenia's strongest weapon and was non-existent in the first two periods. Slovenia trails 37:27 at half-time, and New Zealand is playing really well.
Some life at last, from the ever-active Dragon jr. (Zoran) who first forced a foul then made a great pass to a rolling Omi? who actually dunked it. But you'll be happy to know the defense is looking up and there seems to be life yet in the Slovenians. some good D and quick transition dor an open 3-point shot, and it's a 3-point game. 37:34 for NZ, who also committed 5 fouls in the first two minutes and did not score a bucket until 3 minutes in. Goran made a great bounce-pass to a rolling Omi?, but his ball-handling skills fumbled that chance. The defense is still working well, but Slovenians just can't finish at the rim. Goran is mostly passing the ball and it's obvious he can hit anyone at anytime dead-on, but the finish is still lacking, though to be frank, NZ is being quite aggressive and fouling every shot at the rim. 5 minutes in it's 41:37 for NZ and Goran picked up his first foul.
And then Goran shows his skills finishing through contact surrounded by 3 opposing players and then assisting beautifully with a no-look behind the back bounce pass for a easy lay up. And just like that it's 44:43 and a time-out. (Honorable mention to a guy in the audience that could moonlight as the Suns Gorilla)
Slovenians come out with a small line-up, playing fast transition and good defense. 2 minutes left in the third, Slovenia takes the lead for the first time since the first quarter, it's 46:48. The driving force for the Slovenia is Zoran Dragi?, he's everywhere, and really aggressive.
At the end of third it's 46:50, Slovenia won the period with 9:23!
Some mistakes on both sides, SLO down by 2 again and Gogi's back, connecting on his first two attempts, and leaving the distinct impression he's 40% faster than anyone on the floor. There's no real defense being played in the first few minutes, it's let-it-fly time, obviously. But New Zealand is getting the better of it. And Goran answers right back, his first 3-point shot. and Slovenia is back up by 1 point. Just for a moment though as Gogi picks up his 2nd foul after a missed shot. Zoran Dragi? is still everywhere, imagine a white PJ Tucker, on every loose ball. Goran missed a step-back and failed to finish through contact on the next attempt, but he did force a foul and made both free-throws.
Another wide open three by Gogi who's putting the team on his back with 2 minutes to go but the score is tied at 69. A counter-attack by the Dragi? brothers ends with a lay-up, Goran has 16 points already, Zoran 12. Some good D and Slovenia is up by 5 with a minute left to play. After a made three, NZ is only down by 2 and my voice is raised, yelling at the tv after Zoran missed a lay-up.
15 seconds to go, Balaži? made both free-throws for Slovenia and it's +4. A great effort on D leaves Domen Lorbek alone under the basket and the final score is 74:80.
Slovenia won after a bad start, tightening on D and running and spacing the floor much better in the second half powered by the Dragi? dynamic duo (Goran had 16 points and Zoran had 13). The game itself was not pretty by any standard, but it did show why Gogi is invaluable for the national team, as the game switches a gear when he's playing.
More on the stats of the game and some quotes from the players will follow in another article.