Slovenia, a nation of 2 million people, are the champions of Europe for the first time ever.Embed from Getty Images
Slovenia, led by their greatest ever player Goran Dragic, has been crowned as Kings of European basketball in Istanbul following their incredible 93-85 victory over basketball powerhouse Serbia.
The atmosphere inside the arena was electric as thousands of fans from both countries filled the stadium with noise, colour and incredible support from the outset. It was the perfect backdrop for one of the best games of basketball you’ll ever see, played between two fantastic teams.
The first quarter was neck and neck throughout as Bogdanovic and Dragic went back and forth for their teams putting on an offensive display rarely seen so early in FIBA basketball. Serbia lead by just two points at the end of ten minutes 22-20.
The second quarter was completely dominated by the Slovenia as Goran Dragic exploded for 24 points in the half backed up with solid play from Anthony Randolph and a breakout performance from 18-year-old Luka Doncic. Doncic was at times Slovenia’s most important player in the game as would be seen when he went down with a very nasty high ankle sprain in the third quarter. Doncic, who has been described as “leap years ahead of anyone” by NBA executives, was rightfully named to the all-tournament team alongside Dragic who took tournament MVP honours.Embed from Getty Images
Both sides rode the hot hand in the first half of basketball, playing at breakneck speed. Serbia was led on the floor by the fantastic skilful play of Bogdanovic who is NBA bound this season and the grit and grind of Vladimir Lucic who gave everything he had during his first senior tournament outing for his nation.
Coming out of the break Serbia trailed by 9 points 56-47 and quickly set about playing their game, slowing the ball down and preventing Slovenia from scoring. The change of pace worked for Serbia who cut the lead in the quarter down to just 5 points with ten minutes to play. A game-ending injury to Doncic left the door open for Serbia to come back into the tie and when Dragic went off the floor with cramp Serbia kicked the door wide open.
Goran Dragic, leading his team in his final international appearance ripped into his team late in the third quarter as he sat watching their lead be eroded. “Why are you putting your heads down…put your heads up!” was the message he bellowed at his teammates. It lit a fire under his teammates who regained control of the quarter to head into the final ten minutes up by 5.
Dragic’s injury kept him very quiet in the final quarter and Serbia, through grit, grind and some incredible shooting were able to take the lead with just minutes on the clock. Guduric and Stimac fought hard throughout as did Lucic, but they were matched by fantastic defensive play from Vidmar and some incredible shooting from Prepelic. Krelem Prepelic managed to score fantastic shots from range on his way to 21 points and a winners medal.Embed from Getty Images
While Serbia managed to take the lead the game became a very back and forth affair with just two minutes to go but they were not able to extend the lead beyond one possession and became unable to stop the irresistible offence of the Slovenians. Ultimately Serbia lost the lead and the game quickly got away from them as they were forced into making fouls in the dying moments to get possession. Lucic, who played as well as any Serbian player, fouled out in the final minute went over to the bench and broke down, knowing that his side had fallen just short.
As the final hooter sounded the Slovenian fans erupted in joy as their players mobbed each other in delight, they were European champions. Serbia’s players and coaches, showing class and sportsmanship congratulated their counterparts at length even whilst they watched yet another championship pass them by at the final hurdle.
This weekend has been a fantastic one for FIBA rules basketball with two incredible finals showing the sport in the best possible light. Slovenia will defend the Eurobasket title in 2021 without Goran Dragic who is stepping down from international basketball to focus on his NBA career. It will be tough without The Dragon, but with the likes of Nikolic, Prepelic and Doncic stepping up the future of Slovenian basketball is very, very bright.Embed from Getty Images