HAMAMATSU (FIBA World Championship) – Qatar threw an early scare into Greece but the European Champions eventually found their rhythm and claimed a comfortable Group C triumph on the opening day of the FIBA World Championship in Japan.
The Greeks entered this tournament with a full head of steam after winning last year’s EuroBasket in Belgrade and nothing in their build-up to the World Championship suggested they would struggle, especially against Qatar.
But Ali Turki Ali’s three-pointer with seven minutes and 18 seconds remaining in the first half gave the Asian side a 28-12 lead – their biggest of the game.
A Nikos Zisis lay-up and Vassilis Spanoulis’ banked three-pointer triggered a 24-3 run for Greece at the end of the first half, however, and once they got their noses in front there was not stopping the Europeans. They ultimately prevailed 84-64.
“The game is not over after just one quarter or the second quarter,” said Greece captain Mihalis Kakiouzis.
“The game is played over 40 minutes. After the start of the second quarter, we won the game with our defense.”
Dimos Dikoudis led the way for Greece with 26 points while Spanoulis weighed in with 17.
Ali made five of eight shots from the arc and finished with 17 points.
Joey Stiebing’s side, who qualified as bronze medal winners at the FIBA Asian Championship, are underdogs in the group but they rode the hot hand of Ali to a big early advantage.
His first dagger from the arc ripped the net just 70 seconds into the game to give his team a 5-2 lead.
His second three with 5:36 remaining in the first quarter made it 12-4 to Qatar.
Just three seconds before the end of the opening period, another Ali in the side – Saad Ali – made a pair of free throws and the European giants trailed 18-7.
It would get worse before it got better for the Greeks.
Saad Ali followed that up with a three-ball immediately after the restart and after a basket from Ahmad Mohammed, Qatar were in front 23-7.
The Greeks kept their poise, though, and after Ali Turki Ali’s three-pointer gave the Group C minnows their biggest advantage at 16 points, the momentum shifted.
Zisis, who plays for Italian champions Benetton Treviso, scored on a jump shot in the lane and then Spanoulis, who is coming off a great campaign with Panathinaikos and recently signed a contract to play for the Houston Rockets, heaved a three that hit off the glass before falling through the hoop.
“No, I didn’t mean to bank it in,” he said.
Dikoudis powered his way up for three baskets, Spanoulis made four free throws and Antonis Fotsis buried a three-pointer to pull the Greeks level at 30-30 with 2:37 to go in the first half.
Dikoudis added two more baskets in Greece’s final eight points as they led 38-31 at half-time.
Greece threatened to run away, with a three-point play by Kostas Tsartsaris putting them in front at 54-40 late in third quarter, but Qatar stayed within striking distance.
With 6:55 to play, Saad Ali’s two free throws cut their opponents’ lead to 60-55 but Stiebing’s men would get no closer.
Theo Papaloukas’ lay-up immediately after started an eight-point run for Greece which gave them a 68-55 lead and they cruised to victory.
Mohammed Saleem, the starting center for Qatar, admitted: “We struggled bringing the ball up the court.
“We had, I believe, more than 30 turnovers and you can’t beat teams at this level with 30 turnovers.
“But we were right there. I believe we could have beaten this team. But this game is over. We have four more games and I believe if we take care of the ball, if we play with the same intensity, we have a decent chance of winning some games here.”
Greece made 22 of 24 free throws (92%) to just six of 13 (46%) for Qatar.
The Greeks also had just 17 turnovers to 35 for Qatar.
By Jeff Taylor