Great Britain were beaten Saturday night, 84-88 to Greece in the Copper Box arena London. The game, played at breakneck pace, went down to final moments but Greece had the experience where it counted and took a second four point win in two days.
Shortly before the game tipped off the news broke that Greece and NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo would be missing from tonight’s game but crucially for Greece he would be missing EuroBasket in its entirety. Greece coach Kostas Missas shed some light on the withdrawal post game, “The medical department for [the Milwaukee] Bucks said he needed rest for five days…we thought everything was good…and one hour before [the game] they said us that the problem is more difficult he’s not gonna play, one hour before the game.”
The game was played at a frenetic pace the whole night, with both sides looking to score and entertain from the start. GB played with pace and purpose moving the ball well and creating open looks for center Dan Clark to drain three point shots, a feat that had the Greeks second guessing their defensive rotations throughout the game. Gareth Murray drained a second half three pointer finishing a move in which all GB players touched the ball.
The atmosphere in the Copper Box was red hot as the basketball mad Greek fans chanted and cheered their players throughout the game and rained boo’s down upon the GB dangermen, especially Dan Clark, who they felt has travelled early in the game but was not given the call against.
The score was tied at 22 points at the end of the first quarter as Teddy Okereafor coolly drained the tying free throws with just seconds on the clock, but it was Greece who started the second quarter the better of the two sides going on a 10-3 run to open up the first real lead of the game.
Great Britain turned their play up a gear after a timeout and played even faster paced slick basketball moving the ball as fast as they could to create open looks. Luke Nelson, making his full debut for GB, was the focal point of the fight back. Nelson’s mature play, willingness to attack and fantastic range of passing brought GB back into the game and a back and forth first half ended 44-46 to Greece as Okereafor’s buzzer beater rolled in and then out of the basket.
Great Britain had the better of the third quarter which was played at a slower pace than the first two. Greece were limited to just 13 points as they took a 65-59 lead into the final quarter of play. Captain Kieron Achara grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the third quarter posting 7 of the 21 points scored by GB as he went 3/3 from 2 point range in a dominant spell of basketball that gave GB a chance at victory.
Greece once again started the final quarter strong, eliminating the deficit in a matter of minutes with a fantastic 8-0 run. Even without Giannis, Greece still fielded an incredibly strong outfit with elder brother Thanasis and Sacramento Kings’, George Borgris both playing excellent high tempo physical basketball. Thanasis in particular crashed the boards with aggression at every opportunity and battled toe to toe with Gabe Olaseni, who played a great game, every second he was on the floor. Greece’s stand out star however was point guard and captain Nick Calathes whose range of passing and three point shooting was pivotal to Greece’s performance all game long.
The final quarter of play was even more physical and fast than those which had proceded it as both sides pushed themselves and each other to higher levels of basketball. Luke Nelson was once again GB’s standout performer with Gabe Olaseni playing spectacular basketball with monumental dunk attempts. Greece lost their composure in the final quarter receiving multiple technical fouls including a bench technical which brought GB to within 3 with 31 seconds remaining.
Glasgow Rocks’ Gareth Murray was the victim of a very hard foul from Greece’s Papanikoulaou as he set up for a three point shot. Papanikoulaou had just been in the face of one of the referees disputing the technical foul and was removed from the game after the foul. Nelson scored a beautiful reverse lay up with 24 seconds to play to close the deficit to 1 point.
With just 19 seconds remaining on the clock Luke Nelson stole a bad pass from Kostas Sloukas and drove up court with his sights set firmly on the basket. A pass may have been a better option for the debutant as his lay up was missed and the door shut on Great Britain’s chances of victory. Nelson fouled out intentionally fouling Papayiannis sending Antemekoumpo to the line to shoot the free throws that settled the game, Greece edging GB 88-84.
After the game Dan Clark, GB’s top scorer with 23, saw the game as an opportunity missed, “It’s tough to lose like that.” and corrected coach Joe Prunty in the post match press conference, “we should have won it”. Clark spoke in glowing terms regarding the play of Gabe Olaseni and Luke Nelson, as well as the impact and energy the younger players of the squad have brought to the GB camp.
Debutant Luke Nelson stole the show and was “happy with how I played, overall.” Nelson’s mind frame entering the game no doubt helped his inspired performance. “if I believe in myself and play my game then everything else will come no matter what level it is at.”
Greece’s Thanasis Antetokounmpo post game complimented the strength of the GB team, “they have a great team, this team has been better than the other years for them… it was tough it was a tough one.”
Saturday night was a fantastic game for Great Britain, a few bounces of the ball in GB’s favour could have easily seen the scorelines reversed. Great Britain head to Poland for a final preparation tournament ready for their first appearance at EuroBasket, the European championship of basketball, since the 2013 tournament.