Like I mentioned in the quasi-preview of this match at the bottom of the Ukraine recap, Phoenix Suns forward Dario Saric and Croatia had tough sledding ahead of them in game one of the knockout stage against Finland.
Newly-traded Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen was a star for Finland in the group stage, averaging nearly 25 points per game on impressive efficiency.
And just like I thought they might, Croatia’s hands were full almost immediately. After they scored the game’s first 4 points, Finland reeled off a 13-2 run, capped off by this coast-to-coast dunk by Markkanen:
Saric then took advantage of a spread out Finnish defense, trying to finish at the rim and drawing a foul after catching it around the free throw line — an instance where he’ll usually pass out to the corner or wing:
Shortly after, he sealed off a defender to open up the dunker’s spot for himself, got an entry pass from Karlo Matkovic, and handled the rest:
Utah Jazz wing Bojan Bogdanovic got in on the scoring in the first quarter as well with this prayer late in the shot clock from well beyond the arc:
With Markkanen off the floor for a lot of the back half of the first, Croatia eked out a quick little 11-2 run to end the quarter up 21-20.
With both playing the same-ish position, Saric and Markkanen found themselves matched up quite a few times. On this particular instance midway through the second, Saric gets the best of the duel combining both disruptive hands and quick feet:
Though immediately after, Markkanen takes advantage of the extra possession, cutting down the middle of the lane for a dunk:
Finland led 45-43 at the half.
Saric got his first highlight of the game early in the third when he found Bogdanovic from the top of the key for an easy bucket:
And paired with Summer Suns alum Jaleen Smith for another smooth assist, this time kicking from inside out to a three:
Back and forth the two nations went in the third with neither gaining much of an upper hand to speak of. So much so in fact that the quarter ended in a 65-65 tie with both teams fighting for the right to move on to the quarterfinals.
Saric found Smith a second time early in the fourth, this time from the wing to the corner:
Things started to fall apart for Croatia down the stretch, not helped by Saric’s turnover when trying to battle in the paint for a good shot, which was immediately followed by a three by Finnish sharpshooter Sasu Salin to extend the lead to 85-77:
Finland would pull away from there to win 94-86.
- D. Saric: 12 pts (3-6 2P, 1-3 3P, 3-4 FT), 9 rebs, 6 asts in 32 min
- B. Bogdanovic: 23 pts (6-9 2P, 1-5 3P, 8-9 FT), 5 rebs, 1 ast in 36 min
- J. Smith: 17 pts (2-2 2P, 3-6 3P, 4-4 FT), 3 rebs, 4 asts, 1 stl in 34 min
- L. Markkanen: 43 pts (17-23 2P, 2-6 3P, 3-4 FT), 9 rebs, 3 asts, 3 stls in 32 min
- S. Salin: 17 pts (1-1 2P, 5-10 3P), 5 rebs, 3 asts, 1 stl in 27 min
- E. Valtonen: 0 pts (0-2 2P, 0-1 3P), 2 rebs, 1 stl in 19 min
Finland marches onto the qualifiers and will play Spain on Tue. Sep. 13 at 8:15 a.m. AZ time on ESPN+. I’ll be keeping an eye as I’m suddenly enthralled with the idea of Markkanen being traded to the Suns.
Unless a Markkanen trade piece comes up, the only other FIBA content you can expect from me will come this week, recapping new Suns guard Josh Okogie’s three games with Nigeria for the World Cup Qualifiers, and I may delve into Ish Wainright’s play with Uganda as well.
Other than that, Suns media day is just a couple short weeks away! Time to start ramping up for the 2022-23 season.