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Belinelli, Gallinari lead Italy charge past Puerto Rico in thriller
WUHAN (China) - Italy overturned a 20-point deficit at half time to emerge victorious against Puerto Rico 94-89 in Group J in outstanding fashion and great display of character at the FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sunday at the Wuhan Sports Center.
This is the first time that the Azzurri have won a game in which they were trailing by 15 or more points at half time at the FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Puerto Rico outplayed Meo Sacchetti's side in the first two quarters limiting them to just 13 points in each period but a turnaround of events thanks to solid defense and an aggressive approach on offense; the Italians closed the gap but still trailed by 14 going into the last quarter.
The Azzurri maintained the same method and even though Puerto Rico forced overtime, Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari stood tall as their experience came in handy.
On his end, Belinelli sunk a game high 27 points and six defensive rebounds to post his highest tally in 11 games at the World Cup while Gallinari joined him on the historic table to become the first Italian to combine for 20+ points, 5+ rebounds and 5+ assists in a World Cup game since 1994 with his 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Turning Point: As confessed by Sacchetti, the half time break was crucial for the Italians as they looked to play for pride and avoid an embarrassing defeat. True to the basics of the game, defense is what guided Italy to eventual victory but it must be said that the players were visibly determined to win this game.
The Puerto Ricans for their inexperience looked lost in the second half and when they switched on the individual button, Italy smelled blood and did not look back.
TCL Player of the Game: Marco Belinelli will be heading to bed a very happy man after his 27 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists earned him the TCL Player of the Game Award but most importantly inspired Italy to a much-needed victory. He converted 10 of 12 attempts on the charity line and thrice behind the arc.
Stats Don't Lie: Italy will be proud of their effort in the paint but also that they made it count on the free throw line converting 27 times out of 36 attempts as compared to Puerto Rico's 16-of-22. They also shared the ball a lot registering 23 assists as compared to Puerto Rico's 14 which coach Eddie Casiano was quick to point out as one of the factors that led to their eventual loss - playing as individuals rather than as a team.
Bottom Line: As much as they will be proud of the win, Italy have some soul searching to do having not lived up to their potential in China.
They Said: "It was a very bad game for us in the beginning. We did not show up. We knew that we had to come out with a different attitude and different intensity in the second half and I think that we did a great job." - Italy power forward Danilo Gallinari
"Italy has a record of the worst loss at the World Cup so in the locker room, before the first and second half, we talked about us not repeating this today and we closed the gap and finally, we finished the game with a couple of bad turnovers but we played for pride although we were lucky with the last shot." - Italy coach Meo Sacchetti
"In the first half, we had a good lead and were moving the ball around and then in the second half, we got lost. Our defense collapsed and they started making shots and so it is a good learning lesson that we have to play 40 minutes." - Puerto Rico forward Issaiah Pineiro
"It was a game of two halves. In the first half, we moved the ball and we played good defense and then in the second half, we started stagnating on defense and playing more as individuals. We were not that intense on defense and that cost us because they started hitting us on the open shots." - Puerto Rico coach Eddie Cassiano