Serbia uses big third to surge past Croatia, holds on to make semis
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The first three of Wednesday’s Olympic men’s basketball quarterfinals were one-sided contests, blowouts that sent Australia, Spain and the United States into the medal round. The final matchup between Serbia and Croatia was far different and was not decided until the last few seconds.
Down 38-32 at the half, Serbia rolled to a 34-14 third quarter on its way to an 86-83 victory. Croatia managed to get within one possession late and tried to extend the game with a succession of fouls, but they were unable to make the tough 3-pointer necessary to draw even. Nevertheless, the result was not decided until Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic made two free throws with 13.1 seconds remaining to extend the lead to 86-82. Croatia tried to get back into it with an immediate 3-pointer, but it had to settle for a free throw and intentional miss with just two seconds left.
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Much of the night’s prior drama came via a shootout between each team’s Bogdanovic — Croatia’s Bojan (a game-high 28 points on 7-of-15 FG, 4-of-8 3FG, and 10-of-12 FT) and Serbia’s Bogdan (18 points on 7-of-10 FG and 3-of-4 3FG). The two traded baskets for long stretches and were clearly their teams’ best scoring options on the night. Bogdan made up for what he lacked in volume with excellent efficiency, and Bojan carried Croatia in a game where only two of his teammates scored more than eight points.
The difference for Serbia was largely a matter of balance and taking care of the ball. Three players joined Bogdanovic in double figures with 12 apiece, and point guard Milos Teodosic was arguably the game’s best offensive player despite shooting 2-of-10 from the field for nine points. His 10 assists (against two turnovers) indicated how Serbia was able to create good looks without forcing the issue. They committed 10 turnovers to Croatia’s 18, a difference big enough to help determine the final scoring margin.
Serbia will move on to face Australia, the second-best team of the preliminary round. These teams played each other in their second game in Group A, with Australia prevailing 95-80 in what was a one-possession game until the final few minutes. The Boomers will be favorites to win Friday’s semifinal, but the Serbians has proven that they have the mettle to win tight games with solid execution. Expect a well-played, hard-fought contest.
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Eric Freeman is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter!