Russia has finished third, following a thrilling 72-68 victory over the FYR of Macedonia in Kaunas.
“I want to thank all my players, who followed me. They have honoured me by winning two medals in the last three Eurobaskets,” David Blatt said at the post-game press conference.
Tied at 68, coach Blatt called a timeout with 27.4 seconds left on the clock. With Sergey Monia double-teamed, it was up to the other Sergey, as Sergey Bykov hit an off-balance shot to give Russia a 70-68 lead.
Marin Dokuzovski called a timeout, the play was set. But Damjan Stojanovski saw the ball slip out of his hands inside. Aleksey Shved both his shots from line to seal the win.
Andrei Kirilenko led the victors with 18 points and seven rebounds. Bo McCalebb led all scorers in vain with 22 points for the Former Yugoslav Republic.
“Macedonia gave a great example of how to fight,” Kirilenko said. “We had a lot of will and I’m happy at the end of the game, we were patient. We won 10 of our 11 games and I’m very happy that we ended up with a medal.”
In-front of a raucous Macedonian crowd, the Russians took their first lead of the match at 9-6, thanks to a triple from Kirilenko. Timofey Mozgov then extended Russia’s lead to 13-6 with back-to-back scores inside.
Macedonia stayed with the pace, the hero of their historic win over Lithuania, Vlado Ilievski hit a three as the shot clock was touching zero to close the gap to two, but Semen Antonov gave Russia a 17-13 cushion after the first period.
A quick fire five points from Mozgov gave Russia a seven-point cushion at 22-15 to begin the second, as David Blatt’s men used their quickness and overall team work to basically out think the Former Yugoslav Republic in the paint.
FYR of Macedonia was not to be undone though. A three-point play from McCalebb narrowed the gap again to three at 33. Blatt soon called his troops in to talk things through. Suddenly Russia seemed static and Macedonia were beating them to the punch.
It turned out to be a wise decision. A smart corner play led to a Vitaliy Fridzon three, which gave Russia a 36-30 lead at the half.
Their lead grew further as the third quarter wore on. A pair of Kirilenko free-throws gave Russia a 45-35 lead. FYR of Macedonia, as they have done endlessly through Eurobasket came back to draw to within five points thanks to Pero Antic and Gjorgij Chekovski.
But Russia were giving the ball away cheaply. Kirilenko picked up his fourth foul and their opponents capitalised, and after being down for the majority of the game, an Ilievski triple sent the large Macedonian following into a frenzy as they went into pole position at 53-52.
“Macedonia” chants were echoed throughout the Zalgrio Arena.
An Antic tip gave the Macedonians a 55-52 advantage forcing David Blatt to call a timeout. The pendulum was swinging in the direction of the ultimate underdog.
Blatt, again came-up trumps, as his timeout made Russia step-up a gear. Two Kirilenko triples, followed a bucket from Andrey Vorontsevich gave Russia a 60-57 lead. This time coach, Dokuzovski had to call a timeout.
Unfortunately, the fairytale podium finish had been shattered.
“Today we came very close to our dream,” coach Dokuzovski commented. We dreamed about it during the whole tournament. Besides our hope and the fact that we wanted it so badly.”