Greece dunks France to reach World Championship semis

by Jack Gallagher

SAITAMA — Lazaros Papadopoulos and Antonis Fotsis scored 14 points each as Greece posted a methodical 73-56 victory over France in their quarterfinal game at the FIBA World Championship on Wednesday at Saitama Super Arena.

Dimitris Diamantidis added 13 points for Greece, which will play the United States in Friday’s semifinals.

Though their style isn’t the most picturesque, the rise of the Greek team has been steady the past few years.

After failing to qualify for the 2000 Olympics and 2002 World Championship, Greece finished fifth on home soil in the Athens Games in 2004, and won the EuroBasket tournament in 2005.

“My players came out with a lot of concentration, passion and discipline,” said Greece coach Panagiotis Yannakis. “We have been working on this for three summers now.”

Yannakis credited his team’s understanding of the mental element of the game for the victory.

“Basketball is not only dribbling and shooting. They put their egos out of the game and help each other.”

Papadopoulos, listed at 212 cm but appearing taller, was a real factor in the victory, making some nifty moves in the lane and deftly scoring on several one-handed shots.

The EuroLeague’s top defender the past two seasons, Papadopoulos also forced the athletic French players to repeatedly change their shots.

France was able to penetrate several times but repeatedly had trouble finishing plays and Greece capitalized by taking the ball upcourt and scoring or getting to the free-throw line.

Without injured NBA star Tony Parker in the lineup, France had no spark.

Fellow NBAer Boris Diaw had been counted on to step up, but had a quiet night with just nine points and six rebounds in the loss despite playing more than 35 minutes.

Guard Mickael Gelabale was the lone France player in double figures, finishing with 12 points.

The first quarter was a low scoring struggle, marked by both teams missing several open shots, that resulted in just 20 total points. Despite the fact that both teams played man-to-man defenses, neither was able to establish any momentum and Greece led 12-8.

The tempo picked up a bit in the second quarter with Greece moving out to a 30-21 lead with just over two minutes remaining.

Guard Aymeric Jeanneau kept France in range with a pair of 3-pointers in the period, as the Greeks threatened to blow the game open.

Greece outscored France 12-0 from the line in the first half and took a 34-24 lead into the locker room.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis, an imposing figure at 208 cm and nearly 150 kg, made a nice contribution off the bench for Greece.

The big man, a 2003 second-round pick of the Los Angeles Clippers in 2003, scored 10 points and made it difficult for France to get inside.

With just under one second (0.9) remaining in the third quarter, Greece called a timeout with possession of the ball and then saw Diamantidis beat the horn with a baseline jumper to give his team a 53-43 lead.

France shot just 35 percent in the loss and committed 16 turnovers.

Diamantidis, who played a game-high 38 minutes, said Greece’s pressure defense was pivotal in the win.

“The first key for us is defense. All of our players know this. They didn’t play so good because we forced them to make turnovers.”

Coach Claude Bergeaud said his young team just wasn’t ready for a game at this level yet.

“We saw the experience of the Greek team on the court. We were very nervous, and very careless at the start of the game.”