Greece beat Turkey 81-63 in Victoria, Canada on Saturday to reach the basketball Olympic Qualifying Tournament Final on Sunday, where they will face the Czech Republic. If they win, they would net their first trip to the Olympics since 2008.
Greece overcame a slow start where they were trailing Turkey. But the turning point was the third quarter where under the guidance of Nick Calathes, Greece went on two 10-0 runs in the frame en route to building a 10-point advantage. Greece stayed hot in the fourth, expanding their lead to 19 points before the final buzzer.
Greece shot 29 percent in the first half and finished the game at 46.4 percent. They trailed by 14 points early – and 22-8 at the end of the first quarter – but outscored Turkey 54-29 in a dominant second half.
Calathes, the 32-year-old point guard filled the stat sheet with 18 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. He did most of his damage with runners in the lane, but also knocked down a big three-pointer to push Greece’s lead to 14 points in the fourth quarter and force a Turkey timeout.
Georgios Papagiannis and Konstantinos Mitoglou both had double-doubles for Greece. Papagiannis tallied 14 points and 13 rebounds, with Mitoglou adding 10 points and 12 boards.
Greece basketball team showed the resilience it takes to win a tournament of this magnitude. The Greeks lost their opener against hosts Canada but have have won consecutive knockout games to earn a trip to the final.
Greece coach Rick Pitino said said after the game: “We were nervous in the first half, and I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times: You go out, you have wide-open shots, you don’t make it, you get tight, it bothers you. And I told them, ‘Just play defense,’ and I all I kept reiterating at halftime and timeouts is, ‘Please don’t relax. We’re going to get the lead early in the third quarter, don’t relax.'”
Greece basketball team on the way to the final
On Thursday, Greece national basketball team beat China 105-80.
Greece got ahead of China right out of the gate, doubling them in points in the first quarter, which finished up 28-14. They kept their lead for the rest of the night, scoring eleven out of every eighteen shots taken.
After a very narrow 97-91 loss to tournament host, and favorite, Canada, Greece is proving that they are up there with the other international basketball powerhouses, even when missing some of their key players.
Earlier this week their star player Vassilis Spanoulis –affectionately known as “Kill Bill” – announced he would retire from basketball following an injury.
Greece national basketball team is also playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo — the “Greek Freak” — who is currently playing in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals with his team, the Milwaukee Bucks, which is taking place at the same time as the Olympics Qualifying Tournament.