25 August, 2023
10 September
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How did they do it? Three takeaways from Serbia's win over Canada

MANILA (Philippines) - After 21 years, Svetislav Pesic has found his way to another FIBA Basketball World Cup Final. The legendary coach put on a coaching clinic in the Semi-Finals to take down Canada 95-86 and set up a date with Germany in the Final.

But how exactly did Serbia pull this off? Why were they a step or two ahead of Canada the entire time? And did they have the MVP of the World Cup on their roster this entire time?

Let's dive in.


#1 Defense wins championships

From an old-school perspective, it sounds crazy that a team which allowed 86 points actually won the game thanks to their defense. But that really was the case for Serbia, Pesic won the chess matchup and Serbia looked like they were a couple of moves up on Canada from start to finish.

The obvious plan which works for Serbia is to have ball pressure for all 40 minutes. They do it by putting Ognjen Dobric, the small forward, on the opponents' point guard, and with his size and mobility, he's able to chase guys like Rokas Jokubaitis or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander easily.

Dobric knows he can give it his all. That's the Pesic coaching thing, he explained to Dobric the role he needs from him, and the 28-year-old does not mind going all in from tip-off, sacrificing his energy for the team in defensive pressure without asking for much offensively.

And when Dobric gets tired, Gilgeous-Alexander does not get to rest or breathe easily. That's because the defensive specialist Aleksa Avramovic comes in, and does the same as Dobric, pressure, pressure, pressure, constant, endless, tireless pressure on the ball.

Under constant pressure, SGA finished with 15 points and 9 assists. Not bad, at all - but way below his 30.5 points per game over the previous two matchups.

But guarding Shai one-on-one is not the only reason why Serbia stopped Canada. Take a look at this clip, showing you incredible basketball IQ by Stefan Jovic. He'll get nothing in the boxscore for this play, but he managed to disrupt the flow of the offense by poking the ball, then made a judgement call to pack the paint and prevent the short roll, gambling on leaving RJ Barrett wide open in the corner.

This happened early in the game, showing clear plans of team Serbia to collapse on the defensive end, close the driving lanes in the middle and live or die with Barrett and Dillon Brooks shooting. They shot 6-of-16 from three-point range, not that horrible, but hey, those are 16 possessions less for Canada to get a higher percentage look.

That's a lot. Especially if you're constantly trying to dig into that Serbian lead of 10-12 points throughout the game.

#2 Change of the paradigm

Previously, if you wanted to have a chance of beating a team loaded with NBA stars, the idea was to slow the tempo, not to allow them to run and get those open court points in bunches. Drain the clock for 24 seconds, make them work defensively, get them into nervous minutes with your calmness like Greece in 2006.

That's why Canada and the United States had a similar plan ahead of the Semi-Finals against Serbia and Germany. Run them out of the arena, full speed, 40 minutes, ignore the yellow flags and tire damage warning from the pit crew, channel your inner Max Verstappen and drive.

One problem: What's plan B if the opponent enjoys running the floor more than you do?

The paradigm has changed, Lithuania were already showing it when they defeated the United States, if you balance your minutes while playing fast and physical, it will be the other team who's in trouble.

To do that, you have to control the defensive rebounds to give you the running start. Serbia did it perfectly, 10 (!) defensive boards by Nikola Milutinov, he outrebounded the entire Canadian roster 10-7 under Serbia's rim, and he's a big reason why Canada got only 6 second chance points - way below their 13.3 World Cup average coming into the game.

Control the rebounds, control the pace of the game. Canada were never in a position to do so, Serbia (and Germany, too) were the Verstappen of the day, and it will not change, as Pesic already praised their 25 points in transition per game in this World Cup.

Last thing, you need to take care of the ball, handle the pressure of the defense and do not turn the ball over to give easy fastbreak points to your opponent. Serbia dit all that and more. Same for Germany against USA.

#3 You forgot about Bogdan?

It's hard to describe what seeing Bogdan Bogdanovic in a national team jersey means to Serbian media and fans. They aren't one bit surprised about his MVP campaign in Manila, in which he's currently averaging 19.4 points, 4.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.

But there's this.

Just because Bogdanovic is a sixth man - and an excellent one, may we add - in the NBA, does not mean he's not capable of being the playmaker of the highest level. Playmaker, as in the one who makes the right plays, not as in the alternate name for point guard.

Bogdan is the complete package. He is truly one of the best players in FIBA basketball over the last ten years, and he is so full of confidence when he's wearing that SRBIJA jersey that you are shocked when he misses a shot.

It goes vice-versa, his teammates have so much trust in him, they will happily hand him the ball even if he goes 1-of-13 from three-point range like he did against Italy. He's their leader, their captain, he's the Dejan Bodiroga crossover, the Vlade Divac outlet pass, the Milos Teodosic dagger, the Sale Djordjevic pull up, all wrapped in one.

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People tend to hand out nicknames like FIBA Patty or FIBA Fournier to guys who always have another gear to them in the national team compared to the NBA.

Time to add FIBA Bogdan to the list, because his run with the national team has been nothing short of sensational.