The fantastic individual play of arguably the three best basketball players in the world today–Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic–in the EuroBasket 2022 tournament has dominated headlines over the past two weeks. Now that the dust has settled though and the semifinal cast has been set, they are nowhere to be found.
Teamwork has overwhelmed talent in the quadrennial meet at Berlin, Germany where the hosts will face off against Spain in the semifinals after sending home Antetokounmpo’s Greece team with a 107-96 win.
Dennis Schroder, still an NBA free agent after splitting time with the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets last season, tallied 27 points, three rebounds, eight assists, and a steal to lead Germany. Schroder is the leading scorer among the four teams remaining with a clip of 20.2 points per game in six appearances and has reportedly revived NBA teams’ interest for his services with his strong EuroBasket showing.
Antetokounmpo finished with 31 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, and three steals for Greece, but his ejection midway through the fourth quarter with his team down by 14, 96-82, effectively ended the contest.
Furthermore for Germany, Orlando Magic forward Franz Wagner added 19 points and four assists, EuroLeague veteran Andreas Obst scored 19 points in 21 minutes, and Daniel Theis, who was dealt for Schroder before last season’s trade deadline, chipped in with 13 points and 16 rebounds.
Germany’s run has been one of the biggest surprises of this year’s EuroBasket. They will now face the perennial European powerhouse and reigning FIBA World Cup champion Spain for the right to enter the finals.
Spain is playing its first major FIBA tournament since the iconic Gasol brothers officially retired from international basketball last year yet they have not missed a beat. After topping Group A with a 4-1 record, they survived an overtime thriller against Lithuania in the Round of 16. They then booked their ticket to the semifinals with a 100-90 win over a Finland side that was led by Utah Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen who had 28 points and 11 rebounds.
Willy Hernangomez of the New Orleans Pelicans has emerged as the focal point for this team, averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He took it up by a notch further versus Finland as he made 10 of his 13 field goal attempts and finished with 27 points in their quarterfinal win.
Bo Cruz Juancho Hernangomez added 15 points off the bench and his fellow reserve Liga ACB guard Dario Brizuela scored 14 points. In addition, their naturalized player, American guard Lorenzo Brown, has been a solid fill-in in the absence of the injured Ricky Rubio and tallied 10 points, 11 assists, and two steals in the win.
While the semifinal match between Germany and Spain is expected to be a thrilling contest between two deep teams rich with NBA veterans, the other side of the bracket features a “David versus Goliath” showdown–at least on paper–between last year’s Olympic runner-up France and an upstart Poland team.
France has struggled so far in this year’s EuroBasket despite being led by three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier. They went 3-2 in the powerhouse Group B before needing overtime to win both their Round of 16 and quarterfinal games over Turkey and Italy, respectively.
The spunky Italy side was a particularly worrisome threat to France even without Danilo Gallinari who tore his meniscus playing for them during last month’s FIBA World Cup qualifiers. They came into the quarterfinals with confidence as they rode the momentum of their 94-86 upset win over reigning back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic and Serbia in the Round of 16.
In their match-up with France, the sweet shooting tandem of Marco Spissu and Utah Jazz offseason signee Simone Fontecchio dropped 21 points apiece and kept them afloat throughout the evening.
However, Thomas Huertel scored six of France’s first eight overtime points to help secure their safe passage into the semifinals. The 33-year-old Huertel led the French side with 20 points and eight assists while Gobert had 19 points, 14 rebounds, and a steal. Fournier added 17 points, Guerschon Yabusele contributed 15, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 13 off the bench.
Although it may look like France’s looming semifinal will be a cakewalk compared with what they went through in the two previous rounds, Poland should not be overlooked. They eliminated the defending champion Slovenia in the quarterfinals with a stunning 90-87 win behind a rare triple double from Lega Basket Serie A forward Mateusz Ponitka who became just the fourth player in EuroBasket history to ever record one.
The 29-year-old Ponitka had 26 points, 16 rebounds, 10 assists, and three steals to guarantee Poland its best finish since the 1971 edition of this tournament which was coincidentally held in Germany as well. A triple double is so rare in this setting that even their opponent Doncic, who was limited by a back injury and received an injection in the third quarter, (and even Antetokounmpo or Jokic) has yet to record one in EuroBasket.
Doncic was clearly limited and wound up with only 14 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and six turnovers that were well below his typical gaudy statlines. Vlatko Cancar of the Denver Nuggets led Slovenia with 21 points, four rebounds, and four assists while 14-year NBA veteran Goran Dragic had 17 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
France should be wary of this underdog Poland side that makes up for its lack of NBA veterans with grit and an overflowing sense of self-belief.
This year’s EuroBasket has been further proof that basketball, especially on the international stage, remains a team game. The biggest stars may already be heading home, but the best is yet to come in this thrilling tourney that has captivated audiences around the world.
The quality of basketball seen in Berlin over the past few weeks shows how much Europe has caught up with the Americas in this sport and it should only get better from here on out.