Follow FIBA on Facebook
Lessons learned for all European teams in another fun and crazy window
VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's Eurovision) - We celebrated with some teams and commiserated with others in an unpredictable and nutty-as-a-Christmas-fruitcake fifth window of the European Qualifiers. France, Spain and Turkey sealed their places in next year's 32-team World Cup in China, joining four countries - the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece and Lithuania - that clinched spots in the previous window. Five berths are still up for grabs. What are the latest lessons learned?
When you're on top of the Susijengi, you'd better kill them off. Playing in Zenica after their gut-wrenching 77-75 OT defeat in Espoo to Russia, the Finns trailed Bosnia and Herzegovina 63-45 with a quarter still to play and mounted the mother of all comebacks to win, 81-77. Sasu Salin, who was 4 of 6 from deep, hit a go-ahead 3-ball in the last quarter. If Sasu and Co end up qualifying for the World Cup, they'll certainly look back on this great escape as the key game.
Poland connected on 8 of their first 9 attempts from behind the arc against the Netherlands and seemed to make everything else they put up in Den Bosch while rolling to a 105-78 win. The Dutch, despite their game-tying 3-ball from Yannick Franke with just 4 seconds left in regulation in their next game at Hungary, lost again, this time 91-86 after OT. You tried, Netherlands. You really and truly tried and have nothing to be ashamed of after starting off your campaign in the Pre-Qualifiers. But with those two defeats, you're 3-7 with two games remaining. You're eliminated.
Sometimes you can be too smart for you own good. In this window, Israel's Tamir Blatt missed a potential game-winning 3-ball against Georgia in Tbilisi and Giorgi Shermadini beat them at the end of overtime in a 71-69 Georgia win. Okay, it was a close game and Georgia were at home and won a thriller. We can live with that. What we still can't get over is Israel out-thinking themselves in the previous window with the intentionally missed free-throw while leading Germany by 2 with 0.4 seconds left. That allowed them to call timeout, tie the game with a Maxi Kleber alley-oop and win in OT.
You live by the last-second shot, you die by the last second shot. Ok in this case, it's "you die by the last-second shot (v Greece, 86-85, in the previous window), you live by the last-second shot (in an overtime win against Israel)". Dang, Georgia, we gave you up for dead but no, you've still got a shot at reaching China!
What's the best remedy, fans, after a painful loss, like the one you suffered at Montenegro on December 2, when you thought you needed to win to clinch a spot in the World Cup? Answer: To be told you've qualified after all!
Win your home games. After a 71-67 defeat at Turkey, Spain led from start to finish in a 72-68 victory over Ukraine in Tenerife with Nacho Llovet's 2 free-throws a second from the end icing the win. Spain are unbeaten at home in the Qualifiers. Okay, fans had to sweat it out as Spain nearly blew a late 8-point advantage against Ukraine but they got there in the end.
Sergei Bazarevich's Russia can sure lock down opponents on defense. They were ruthless against Finland late, shutting them down over the last several minutes of regulation before winning 77-75 after overtime. Like a sledgehammer wielding unit when it's time to get down and dirty, it's not always pretty for the Russians but it's darn effective.
Nikola Ivanovic and Bojan Dubljevic are taking it upon themselves to save the world (well, to save Montenegro's World Cup Qualifiers campaign). Just as they did against Ukraine in the previous window, the duo combined for 38 points against Turkey in Montenegro's 71-66 win.
Aaron Cell is a big-time threat for Poland. He hit 6 of 7 3-pointers in a 105-78 romp at the Netherlands. Do not leave this man open!
Italy are not the same without Amedeo Della Valle, who has made 25 of 53 shots from deep in seven Qualifiers. The Azzurri, with Della Valle hurt and unable to play, were a combined 15 of 52 from long range against Lithuania and Poland.
Hungary are the winners of the X-Factor competition. Seriously, did anyone foresee Szilard Benke killing the Dutch with a 21-point game? Did anyone see him getting fouled not once, not twice but three times while attempting 3-pointers? The dude had two four-point plays! His previous high in the Qualifiers was 9 points in the fourth window against Italy.
Miro Bilan can put the ball in the basket and even rebound when he puts his mind to it. He was a combined 13 of 19 from the floor against Hungary and Lithuania. Against Hungary, he had 14 boards.
Nobody's perfect, and it's not easy to play Italy in front of 5,000 screaming fans in Brescia so write that 70-65 defeat off as a blip. Lithuania showed their quality next time out with a 79-62 romp over Croatia in Vilnius. Yep, just taking care of business.
France have players coming out of the woodwork! Amath M'Baye made his national team bow at the Czechs and poured in 18 points, the most of any French player in the Qualifiers. Talk about an embarrassment of riches!
The Czechs couldn't score in the final several minutes of a home defeat to France and then crashed to a heavy defeat in Russia after an impressive first quarter. No problem, we got this! The Czechs are still headed to the World Cup.
The Bulgarians scored just 11 points over the last 15 minutes at France and saw their World Cup qualification hopes die. Even so, for a country that last played in a EuroBasket in 2011 and had to make it through the Pre-Qualifiers, this campaign wasn't bad when you consider they beat Iceland twice, won at home against France, lost two games to Finland by a combined 7 points and two games to the Czechs by a combine 8 points. And don't forget, Russia won at home against Bulgaria by just 4 points!
Ditto for Bosnia and Herzegovina, a team that deserves applause after going through the Pre-Qualifiers. Roared on a by passionate crowds at home and facing all sorts of adversity, including having two stand-in coaches with Dusko Vujosevic unwell. Remember, they beat Russia in the first window.
Germany lost their unbeaten record at Greece but man alive, did you see the dunk from Johannes Thiemann when he put arguably the best player in the Qualifiers, Ioannis Bourousis, on a poster?
Speaking of Bourousis, Germany couldn't stop him. He had 25 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Can anyone solve the Bourousis problem?
Stefan Jovic had 7 turnovers and just 4 assists against Greece but who cares when the EuroBasket 2017 point guard goes 9 of 13 from the floor and scores 22 points to move Serbia to within a win of World Cup qualification?
Estonia aren't going to the World Cup but you have to love how hard they play. There was no quit in the men from the Baltics in their defeat at Germany.
This great basketball country went off the rails a long time ago in the Qualifiers. The slide started with a one-point defeat at Belarus in February. Still, similar to Estonia, Slovenia battled their hearts in the last home game against Latvia and even led by 17 at one point before falling, 82-77. At least Slovenia are No. 7 in the latest FIBA World Ranking.
It's not looking good for Ukraine but you know what? These guys had a great fifth window, crushing Slovenia in Zaporizhia and then pushing Spain to the very end in Tenerife before falling, 72-68.
Looking down the barrel and about to be swept in the fifth window, Latvia drew on their powers of recovery and won at Slovenia. And the man that led the comeback was 36-year-old Janis Blums with 31 points. The veteran is desperate to play at his first World Cup.
FIBA's columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.
FIBA takes no responsibility and gives no guarantees, warranties or representations, implied or otherwise, for the content or accuracy of the content and opinion expressed in the above article.