Croatia’s third game of EuroBasket — this time matching up against University of Arizona guard Kerr Kriisa and his Estonia — was close for just about all 40 minutes. Croatia led by 4 after each of the first two quarters, led by 5 after the third, and were able to squeak out a 73-70 win.
In this EuroBasket so far, Croatia — much like the 2021-22 Phoenix Suns — really has a tendency to dig themselves into a hole in the early-goings of games. Today was no different, as Estonia opened on a 10-3 run capped off by a transition free throw pull-up from Kriisa.
Despite the Mediolanum Forum in Assago, Italy, the arena used for Group C’s contests, being more than a full day’s drive away from Estonia, it felt like they were the host nation with the way their crowd showed up, making it even tougher for Croatia to dig themselves out of the early hole.
Suns big Dario Saric, however, didn’t seem to mind the crowd and successfully helped Croatia take the lead with two minutes left in the frame thanks in part to this really nice inside bounce pass to Karlo Matkovic for a basket as well as an open catch-and-shoot three assisted by Jaleen Smith:
He also threw this sick pass late in the first that didn’t lead to scoring for Croatia but looked cool anyway:
Mostly due to plenty of fouls, turnovers, and straight-up poor offense, each side struggled to get much done offensively in the second quarter. Each team scored only 13 points, resulting in a 33-29 halftime lead for Croatia. Suns trade target Bojan Bogdanovic had his worst half of the tournament so far, finishing with as many fouls (2) as points.
Bogdanovic looked to start the second half differently, getting an early bucket off of a cut and assist from Matkovic at the mid-post.
In much of the discussion around a potential Bojan-to-PHX trade, the elephant in the room of his defense comes up, and there was an especially bad possession while guarding a G League wing who plays for the Chicago Bulls’ affiliate, Henri Drell:
this is some really poor defense from bojan trying to stay in front of windy city bulls wing henri drell pic.twitter.com/RfyuRnFUkV— damon allred (@iamdamonallred) September 5, 2022
Drell’s hesitation moves in isolation more closely resemble the kinds of bad situations that Bogdanovic can find himself in during NBA play as opposed to the team defense-oriented situations he more frequently sees in FIBA play, which he doesn’t struggle with as much.
Try as they might, Croatia couldn’t get Estonia to go away late; Estonia was shooting the lights out from deep in the fourth, hitting back to back threes at one point to help cut the lead to just 1 with several minutes still remaining in the game.
One of the cooler responses from Croatia came when former NBA playoff opponents, Saric and LA Clippers big man Ivica Zubac, teamed up for a two-man game resulting in yet another assist for Saric and yet another dunk for Zubac.
Saric, who finished the game with his first double-double of the summer, hit a three assisted by Smith with four minutes left to extend Croatia’s lead to 5:
Smith iced the game with his free throws to put the game out of reach and Croatia came out on top, 73-70, moving to 2-1 in Group C and a chance to finish the day tied for the group lead.
- D. Saric: 15 pts (2-7 2P, 2-4 3P, 5-6 FT), 12 rebs, 3 asts, and 2 stls in 32 min
- K. Matkovic: 17 pts (8-8 2P, 1-1 FT), 4 rebs, 1 ast, and 2 stls in 19 min
- J. Smith: 13 pts (1-5 2P, 2-7 3P, 5-6 FT), 7 asts, and 1 stl in 36 min
- B. Bogdanovic: 4 pts (1-3 2P, 0-3 3P, 2-2 FT) and 5 rebs in 26 min
- S. Vene: 18 pts (1-1 2P, 5-10 3P, 1-2 FT), 3 rebs, 2 asts, and 1 blk in 26 min
- M. Kotsar: 17 pts (8-13 2P, 0-1 3P, 1-5 FT), 5 rebs, 3 asts, 3 stls, and 2 blks, in 35 min
Croatia will tip at a reasonable AZ time on Tuesday when they meet host nation Italy sans Danilo Gallinari, who tore his ACL in the preparation games. That matchup will tip at noon on Tuesday on ESPN+.
Meanwhile Estonia will face off against Great Britain at 5:15 AZ time, also on ESPN+, in a matchup of the weakest two teams in the group.
Greece and Ukraine are the only two in the group to start 2-0 and be ahead of Croatia at this moment. Greece is holding out Giannis Antetokounmpo (rest) against Great Britain today and they still led double digits in the first half. If that game turns and Britain gets the upset, Croatia just needs Italy to beat Ukraine later today for a share of the group lead.
Even if that doesn’t happen, Croatia still looks to be firmly in the top 4, which is the threshold to move onto the knockout stage.