EuroBasket 2015 got off to a thrilling start on Saturday as the action started in all four host cities - Berlin, Germany; Montpellier, France; Riga, Latvia; and Zagreb, Croatia. Jan Vesely of Fenerbahce Istanbul paced Czech Republic to a big win over Estonia, Robin Smeulders of EWE Baskets Oldenburg hit a game-winning shot as Netherlands edged Georgia, while Nando De Colo had a big night as France edged Finland in overtime.
The co-host nation France needed to work extra time before defeating Finland in overtime 97-87 in Montpellier. Nando De Colo of CSKA Moscow helped France take 37-25 margin midway through the second quarter, and the hosts led by as many as 63-47 in the third and 74-60 early in the fourth. But Petteri Koponen of Khimki Moscow Region sparked a 0-12 run that brought Finland back into the game, and his jumper tied it at 78-78 with 48 seconds left. In the remaining time, De Colo and Sasu Salin traded triples, and with 81-81 game went into the extra session. De Colo opened overtime with a three-point play and France never looked back. De Colo had 16 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists, while Tony Parker paced the hosts with 23 points. Jamar Wilson scored 21 for Finland, Koponen had 15 points and 7 assists, while Salin of Herbalife Gran Canaria Las Palmas netted 14 in defeat. Poland and Israel also got off to a winning start. Israel came back from a double-digit deficit to edge Russia 76-73. After trailing 33-44, Israel used a 17-5 spurt ending the third quarter, and opened the fourth with 9-0 run for 59-49 lead. After Andrey Vorontsevich of CSKA Moscow and Andrey Zubkov of Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar gave Russia hope, Lior Eliyahu of Hapoel Bank Yahav Jerusalem pushed the lead back to double-digits. But Vorontsevich and Nizhny Novgorod’s Dmitry Khvostov each hit a triple to help cut it to 70-69 in the final minute, but Gal Mekel hit a jumper with 23 seconds left, then Eliyahu came up with a steal as Israel held on. Eliyahu had 16 points, and Mekel of Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade finished with 13 points in victory, while Omri Casspi led Israel with 21 points and 9 boards. Vorontsevich had 15 points and 13 rebounds in defeat, and Khvostov also netted 15. Poland held off Bosnia and Herzegovina 68-64 in the first game of Group A. Poland held 40-30 lead at halftime, and a fastbreak triple from A.J. Slaughter of Banvit Bandirma helped increase the margin to 51-34 in the third quarter. But Alex Renfroe of FC Bayern Munich hit a pair of triples, and Andrija Stipanovic of Trabzonspor Medical Park scored twice inside to get Bosnia back in the game. Baskets were few and far between in the final stanza, as Poland never relinquished the lead, and Slaughter sealed it from the foul line with 6.7 seconds to go. Adam Waczynski was Poland’s top scorer with 15 points, Mateusz Ponitka added 13. Slaughter finished with 10 points while Damian Kulig of Trabzonspor grabbed 8 rebounds in the winning effort. Stipanovic paced Bosnia with 20 points.
In the battle of the heavyweights, Serbia beat Spain 70-80 in a game that Serbia ended on a 0-9 run to grab an important opening day victory. Spain was held scoreless in the starting 5 minutes, but behind Real Madrid’s All-Euroleague selections Felipe Reyes and Rudy Fernandez made a 21-4 run to open 21-9 up lead. But Serbia came back through Nemanja Nedovic of Unicaja Malaga who strung together 10 points, including back-to-back threes that helped Serbia even things up just before the break, 34-34. A triple from the reigning Turkish Airlines Euroleague MVP Nemanja Bjelica put Serbia in front 45-46 in the third, before threes from Bogdan Bogdanovic of Fenerbahce and Zoran Erceg of Galatasaray Istanbul helped extend it to 50-62 late in the quarter. Spain rallied in the fourth behind Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and a triple from Paur Ribas of FC Barcelona. Gasol made it 68-69, and again 70-71 with 99 seconds to go, but Bjelica and the Euroleague Rising Star Trophy winner Bogdanovic countered with triples as Serbia went on to victory. Bjelica had 24 points and 10 rebounds and 4 assists for Serbia, Nedovic added 14, Milos Teodosic of CSKA chipped in with 12 points. Gasol had 16 points in defeat, Reyes scored 13 and Ribas 11. Turkey held off Italy 87-89 after surviving Italy’s comeback attempt. Turkey went up early with a 2-13 run for 13-26, and margin grew to 24-40 after back-to-back threes from Ersan Ilyasova and Melih Mahmutoglu. Italy started to melt through Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari and Alessandro Gentile of EA7 Milan, and the lead was cut to 42-51 at the half, then 61-64 in the third quarter. But Bobby Dixon of Fenerbahce Istanbul and Semih Erden of Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul made sure Turkey never relinquishes the advantage. Marco Bellineli made it 84-85 with 60 seconds to go, and Galinari had a chance to tie it 8 seconds before the final buzzer, but made only the first of two free throws for 87-88 as Turkey held on. Erden finished with 22 points and 8 boards, and Dixon had 17 points and 9 assists. Gallinari netted 33 for Italy, and Gentile had 13 with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. The group host Germany never trailed, and beat tournament debutante Iceland 71-65 in Berlin opener. Germany went up 18-9 in the first quarter on a triple from CAI Zaragoza’s Robin Benzing, before Dirk Nowitzki and Dennis Schroeder led the hosts in the second to 41-26 halftime lead. Iceland refused to go away after the break, but Germany kept control as Nowtizki and Schroeder each finished with 15 points. Benzing scored 6 points before leaving the game with an ankle injury, while FC Bayern Munich’s Paul Zipser had 6 points and 7 rebounds. Jon Stefansson netted 23 for Iceland.
Croatia opened EuroBasket with a hard-fought 80-73 win over Slovenia in the Croatian capital. Slovenia started the game better through Zoran Dragic and Jaka Blazic, but behind EA7 Milan’s Kruno Simon and Cedevita Zagreb’s Luka Zoric, the hosts rallied from an early 8-point deficit to take 44-38 halftime lead. After the break Zoric and Simon kept Croatia ahead and a driving layup from Ukic gave Croatia 63-50 late in the third quarter as Croatia never looked back. Simon scored 20 points with 6 rebounds, and Zoric finished with 17 in victory. Dragic of Khimki Moscow Region scored 14 points, Crvena Zvezda’s Blazic had 11 points plus 6 rebounds, while Alen Omic of Gran Canaria scored 10 in losing effort. Robin Smeulders of EWE Baskets Oldenburg hit a game-winner with 17 seconds to go as the Netherlands stunned Georgia 72-73 in the Croatian capital. The Dutchmen led most of the way, but Georgia rallied from 12 points down in the fourth, and went in front 70-65 with 2:16 to go on back-to-back baskets from Tornike Shengelia of Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz. However, a pair of steals and a banked in triple from Charlon Kloof gave Dutch hope, cutting it to 72-71 with 44 seconds to go. The Orange troops made another defensive stand, before Robin Smeulders hit a mid-range jumper which turned out to be a game winner. Smeulders finished with 8 points and Hank Norel of CAI Zaragoza also had 8 in victory, while Kloof finished with 22 in victory. Shengelia led Georgia with 16 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Greece handled Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 65-85, controlling things during the entire game. Georgios Printezis of Euroleague runner-up Olympiacos Piraeus scored 18 points, and the reigning champ Ioannis Bourousis had a double-double of 16 points plus 10 boards in victory. Aleksandar Kostoski scored 20 in defeat.
In a game that went down to the wire in Riga, Lithuania survived a thriller to edge Ukraine 69-68. Mantas Kalnietis of Zalgiris Kaunas hit a triple early in the second quarter to help Lithuania to 25-14, but Ukraine answered with 0-12 run capped by Lokomotiv’s Kyrylo Fesenko for 25-26. Real Madrid’s Jonas Maciulis and Robertas Javtokas of Zalgiris made sure Lithuania went into the break in front 33-26. Lithuania kept the lead in the second half and Jankunas extended it to 60-49, but Ukraine answered with a 2-14 spurt to take a slim advantage. Olexandr Mishula and Jankunas traded triples with under 3 minutes left, and Lithuania grabbed 69-68 going into the final minute. Ukraine had last 4 seconds for the final possession, but a defensive stand gave Lithuania victory in which Jankunas netted 22 points, Jonas Valanciunas collected 19 points plus 11 boards, and Maciulis had 11. Fesenko led Ukraine amassing 19 points plus 11 rebounds. The co-host nation Latvia pulled away in the fourth quarter to overcome Belgium 67-78. Belgium entered the final quarter with 52-51 lead, but a pair of three-pointers from Kristaps Janicenoks and one from Dominion Bilbao Basket’s Dairis Bertans gave Latvia lead for good, before a put-back from Janis Timma made it 56-66 and Latvia never looked back. Meiers was the top scorer for the hosts with 15 points, Janicenoks added 14, and Bertans had 13 while Kaspars Berzins of Nizhny contributed with 12 points. Axel Hervelle paced Belgium with 13 points, 7 assists and 6 boards. In the opening game of the tournament, Czech Republic cruised to 80-57 win over Estonia in Riga, Latvia. Czechs took control from the start as Blake Schilb of Galatasaray Istanbul scored 9 first quarter points for 18-9 lead, and margin continued to grow in the second quarter as Jan Vesely of Fenerbahce Istanbul dominated inside, and Schilb hit a triple to end the first half and 43-24. Czech Republic opened a 29-point lead in the third, and coasted to victory as Vesely finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds, Schilb netted all of his 14 points in the first half, while Tomas Satoransky of FC Barcelona Lassa chipped in with 7 points and 7 boards. Siim-Sander Vene of Zalgiris Kaunas led Estonia in its EuroBasket debut with 18 points and 13 boards.