After a good first half from Slovenia, USA just ran them over, scoring 119 points in the process of securing their semifinal spot against Lithuania.
Here comes the BOOM (thy name is Dragic-led Slovenia cheered on by around 2500 fans in Barcelona)!
Ok, enough with the pleasantries, on with the game.
Disclaimer: My emotions!
Faried opens the scoring after a manly foul and makes one ft. Lorbek makes great pull up jumper but misses the free throw. And you can clearly hear Slovenian fans cheering them on after a brief lead. A great Dragonshake was eventually blocked but Slokar gets the offensive rebound. But USA is doing one thing and one thing only, getting the ball to Faried. Goran Dragic DUNK, are you kidding me! A made jumper later, we're up 8:4, 3 minutes in and playing well. But we can't keep up with the stronger, more agile Americans and are committing foul after foul. Gogi gets his first foul on Irving, who completes the and one. And just like that we're down 10:13. And USA is getting, on average, 3,5 offensive rebounds per possession, jumping all over our dudes with 15 rebounds to our 7. We're trying run and gun, but it's not really working, USA invented it. But our guys are hanging in there, giving it all and are down by 4 points with 3 minutes left in the first.
Goran is being hounded, he's not even allowed to dribble for a bit, let alone make a undisputed kick-out. Cousins strips Omic and finishes at the other end to make it 15:26. Some good ball movement later, we're only down by 6. Well 8 again, but Curry jut picked up his 3 personal on Prepelic, who makes both freebies. Harden threw a crazy jumper, missed the rim and the ball landed right in Cousins' hands. It's 29:22 at the break, but our main problem are personal fouls by our "bigs".
Good ball movement by Slovenia again but USA is just too much of a handful under the rim, there's just no boxing out against them. Oh and Thompson is hitting every open shot, so that's not helping us. Gogi checks back in and he's still double and triple teamed, but he still makes a nice floater. A couple of turnovers by Blazic later and we're down by 11 again. USA got 15 points off of turnovers, if you're interested. And we got a defensive rebound! Followed by an airball from Gogi. Harden gets his second foul and takes a seat but USA's defense is killing us, coupled with a vicious block by Davis. Zoran makes a strong move to the rim and forces a foul by Davis. But he makes another jumper, of course, and gets a foul on offense, elbowing Zupan in the neck. It's still a 10 point game. But Zupan is not taking the wide open three, why the hell not! Lorbek is playing well but missing free throws, not his m.o. And we're only down by 9!
Here comes the zone defense, a missed shot and Cousins gets his third foul, forcing a time out by coach K and Golica playing in the arena. But we're still not making our free throws and committing fouls like silly people. Zone again but it's broken with an alley-op to Davis. It's clear our "bigs" are technically much better versed but can't hope to compete in the physical aspect of the game. Zoran outruns Harden for a dunk after a steal! And another drive by Harden later a Zoran-Goran pass makes it a 10 point game again, forcing a time out by USA. Zoran makes a three and it's a 7 point game with 30 seconds left and then plays some great D on Harden, running out the clock. So it's 42:49 at the half. Way to go boys! Keep up the defensive effort and take care of the ball and we'll all be happy. Well, the 2 million of us at least.
Good D, Curry breaks Lorbek's ankles but misses the jumper. Goran makes a good move and scores. Another post move by Gogi later but he misses the shot. Zoran plays good D on Harden, forcing an airball and two turnovers later we're down by 11 again. Slovenia is putting up a good fight but USA is ruthless in the open court. Oh and Davies. Zoran blocks Gay, here comes the NBA. Zoran gets his first foul on a questionable call on Harden who missed another shot. He makes his first point on a free throw, somebody was asking about Zoran's defense?
Goran weaves through traffic and gets to the rim on a great move, but Irving answers right back. Goran gets his second foul on Harden who makes the shot , gets another free throw and USA is up by 14 again. Make it 17 after Zoran misses a layup at the rim. Goran answers with a step-back three. A couple of bad passes later and we're down by 18 points after two nice alley-op dunks by Davies and Faried. And it's a 22 point game a minute after Goran left for a breather. And Prepelic is called for an unsportsmanlike foul on Cousins, then Harden makes a three with Zoran out. We're running out of steam or so it seems, our D is lagging behind. After third, USA leads by 22 points, effectively sealing the victory so let's hope for at least some good effort by our guys. 37:22 in this period for USA.
A three by Gay and a turnover later we're down by a lot, Goran picks up his fourth personal, Zupan picks up his fourth as well, it's 93:64, USA is getting wide open shots, no effort on D anymore. The only dude still fighting is Goran though. And we're in run and gun mode obviously, not something we can do better than USA. And if you're thinking my writing is lacking, it's reflecting my team's play. Goran looks beat, and I mean beat, so does the rest of the team. And USA is determined to finish us off, playing hard on every possession, not letting up. The difference is around 30 points with 4 minutes left. It's 111:72 with 3 minutes left, nobody's trying to play defense anymore, just trying to score and yeah, it's working wonderfully.
And the final score is 119:76, we got pummeled with 70 points in the second half and that pretty much tells you everything there is to know. Kajkejti will follow this up with another article with some quotes, when she stops mourning probably and I'm off to join her.
Goran had 13 points, amazing he actually got a shot off with the defense hounding him throughout the whole game.
His short interview after the game: "We simply ran out of energy, you saw their substitutions every two minutes, they were fresh and just ran us ragged so we just kind of fell apart in the third."
About team USA: They are very athletic, grabbing so many offensive rebounds, attacking continuously and playing D for a whole minute is going to exhaust you. We did the best we could, worked hard, left everything on the field, we're happy but we definitely wanted more
The best Suns game I ever attended was rather nondescript in the grand scheme of Phoenix Suns basketball. There weren't major implications and nothing of historical significance took place. I couldn't really tell you a thing that took place on the court. But it was my favorite.
I didn't have a lot of time to ruminate on this subject. It fell in my lap and I had to tackle it word association style. The deadlines of this blog can be a cruel taskmaster.
I had an instantaneous reaction, though, so rather than reflect on the subject for a little longer I just decided to run with the first thing that came to mind. Sometimes, as was suggested in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, a snap judgment can be better than a more thorough, deliberate one.
That and I'm lazy.
Here's the backdrop... let your mind's eye fade to white as we go back to a simpler time of NES and two point field goals.
The year was 1989 and I was a 10 year old in fourth grade. My school had a reading incentive program where students read a book, turned in a short summary, and got points to use in an auction based on the number of pages read. The rules stipulated that a student could only bid on two prizes in the auction, but through my assiduity (and general love of books as a child) I had compiled more than double the pages read of the next student. That meant I could place the two highest bids in the auction.
Interestingly enough, as a child I was a voracious bibliophile, but as an adult I don't have the patience/temperament to read many novels. My reading these days mostly consists of online news and sports as well as things of a technical and academic variety. Back in 1989, though, as an advanced reader my eclectic tastes ranged from easy reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, to a budding love affair with all things Terry Brooks, to biographies of early 20th century baseball players.
When the day of the auction came I was sitting pretty. Going into the event the exact manifest of prizes hadn't been revealed. After perusing the selection the first thing I coveted was a pair of lower level Phoenix Suns tickets. Like I mentioned above, I was able to secure the two prizes I wanted most, but I can't even remember what else I bid on. I remember the location of the classroom in the school. I remember that the chalkboard hung on the North wall of the classroom. I remember that we sat on the floor during the auction (desks moved to the back of the classroom). But I don't remember the other prize. Funny how memory works (or doesn't).
I guess it must have been a crappy prize.
But the tickets wasn't. Despite Miami struggling through their inaugural season (they were 10-54 entering the game) the Suns were a hot item as they had risen from the ashes of the drug scandal and were on their way to a 55 win season and Western Conference Finals appearance. In hindsight, however, it does seem convenient that I was gifted this game sandwiched between contests against the Seattle SuperSonics, Portland Trail Blazers and Chicago Bulls.
Luck of the draw.
The game took place March 20, 1989. I couldn't remember the score when I thought about this (as in whether it was a close game) or name a single player on the Heat from memory. I did, however, remember that the Suns won. It turns out, thanks to trusty old basketball-reference.com, that Phoenix strolled to a 115-97 victory. It was actually a solid performance by the Suns as they used a 36-19 third quarter to lay a savage beating on the hapless Heat.
Four Suns scored at least 20 points in the game (Tom Chambers (26), Kevin Johnson (21), Jeff Hornacek (20) and Eddie Johnson (20)). KJ dished out 16 assists and Mark West (11 points and nine rebounds) barely missed a double-double.
Something called a John Shasky started at center for the Heat.
I guess there are probably several factors that played a role in the significance of this event.
It was the first Suns game I can remember going to. I had been to other games before that, just not that I can remember details from.
It was from the fruits of my labor (although I didn't really consider the reading labor). I got the tickets so it was like I was taking my dad to the game. He might disagree after factoring in transportation, concessions and merchandise...
It was with my dad.
It didn't begin my fascination with basketball, though. Walter Davis was my first favorite Sun before Jeff Hornacek took the baton. I even had a run in with the Gorilla when I was hospitalized as a five year old (a story for another time).
The synchronicity of these events are among a myriad that have played a memorable role in shaping my overall fandom. I have a lot of great memories involving sports.
Maybe this story doesn't appeal to you since it has very little to do with anything that actually happened on the court. I already mentioned that there would be no mention of anything historically significant. Maybe your favorite game involves game X of the XXXX playoffs.
Or maybe you have a similar story. A game that wasn't really important, but still meant so much.
There are things in sports, and life, that transcend the final score.
This was that to me.
In true David versus Goliath fashion, Slovenia takes on the title favourites, USA.
The World Cup is down to its last 8 teams and
surprisingly Slovenia is one of them. Of course so are the US, but everyone expected that. Just like everyone expects a USA win today. The odds are ever in their favor.
Still, there is no use being negative, as always Slovenia will be going for the win. After reading/hearing some statements from the Slovenian camp, I get the feeling they did cook up a scheme to be competitive. It might mostly rely on 3 point shooting since we still lack center strength for any inside depth. Either way the whole team has been positive about the upcoming battle and will be wanting to prove themselves.
Goran Dragic says our advantage is team play and the fans. Plus a good shooting night would be great. So I pray to the Basketball Gods it all goes in. He knows most of the pressure will be directed at him again.
" I'm used to the pressure, it's nothing new for me. We'll give it our best, fight to the best of our abilities and see where it gets us."
Not that he's being unrealistic:
" I'm a realist. I won't say I don't believe it possible, I think there's always a chance, if we have a crazy shooting streak or something. On paper they're flat out better then us, with superior players, but you never know. There was a study that showed they (USA) lose something like one in three games in elimination rounds so who knows, this could be it."
"They are a tough, athletic team, tall and very fast. We'll need to keep our turnovers to a minimum, focus on boxing out and grabbing defensive rebounds, but that gets tough after a minute of relentless attack."
As for the Americans, they seem to be taking this opponent seriously as well. Coach K pointed out the team play as well and mentioned perimeter shooting being one of the things they'll watch out for. He added Slovenia is one of the top teams at this tournament. Stephen Curry was also very flattering in offering his opinion about Slovenia:
Slovenia has a capable team that could surprise us, if we're not playing our best. It's no walk in the park. We need to give it all and play our game, being aggressive from the start. They know how we play so it's up to us to set and dictate the pace. As the final stages of the tournament approach, we need to up our game even further."
Steph goes on and the praise he has for Goran is by no means just a courtesy:
Goran has proven himself in the NBA, I know him well. He can run the team and attack himself, not afraid to take the responsibility or carry the team if he has to."
He also said some kind words about Lil' Dragon/Dragonite/Dragonball Z/Zoki/Zole, Zoran Dragic and the rest of the team:
I didn't know about his brother beforehand but after seeing him play in the friendly game and during this tournament it's safe to say he's a dangerous opponent. Those are the two players we'll need to focus on though there are others that can cause trouble. They have a number of good shooters, all of the guards help set up the offense so we're well aware of their strengths. We know them well as we've played at Gran Canaria, but this is a different team, although they were playing well back then too. We need to focus on our game-plan and stick to it.
Will Slovenia prevail? Maybe not, but if Team Slovenia says they can beat them and Team USA says we're a tough opponent, then I can hold on to that minimal % of hope everything goes our way today.
+ Goran's take on the interest Zoran is attracting from the NBA:
That's all rumor at this point, not that I know much about it. Some agents were inquiring, there's definite interest so we'll see what happens but there is the buy-out clause to think about. We'll see if any team is willing to pay it.
++ Touching on the topic of Australia's calculation that blew up in their face against Turkey, Goran congratulated Emir Preldzic (his teammate at the start of his career in Slovan) on making the winning shot.