Preview by Yarone Arbel
|Finland, one of the smallest teams in the competition, will need a great game inside by Gerald Lee and the rest of their bigs against power house Russia |
GROUP F - THURSDAY AT 18:00 (17:00 CET)
Russia and Finland will take the floor for the second game on Thursday for a key encounter between a major powerhouse and one of the biggest underdogs EuroBasket has seen in many years.
Russia topped Group D and didn't drop a game so far, which allows them to stand with a proud 2-0 record, in position to take over the merged group as well.
Finland shocked by making the Second Round in their second EuroBasket since 1979, and will start the games in Vilnius with a 0-2 record.
The gaps between the top players in each roster, the depth of the bench, the size, the experience and tradition swing extremely to Russia's side.
If Finland pulls off another win this will be a top candidate for the most shocking win in EuroBasket's history.
Yet when the tip off ignites the game the scoreboard will mark 0-0 and from there, as true in any sport, anything can happen.
Russia have one of the best defensive teams here and have created major headaches for teams more skilled than Finland.
Yet their neighbour from the west brings great energy and hustle on the floor in each game.
Gerald Lee, in a great championship so far, is providing power in the paint and together with 35-year-old veteran Hanno Mottola, who already retired but made a comeback that paid off, create the mass of Finland.
Yet the power of Finland is in the guards where Petteri Koponen, Teemu Rannikko and 20-year-old Sasu Salin create a trio that can match Russia on paper.
How will that trio be able to survive against the physical, intense and, long, quick and aggressive defense of Russia will be the key question of the game.
Head-to-Head: The teams have met a total of three times and the last of them was during Finland's last visit to the EuroBasket in 1995. Russia trashed Finland 126-74 with eight players scoring in double-digits. The two teams met also twice before that in the Qualifying Round. Finland shocked in front of their fans with a two-point win and Russia took revenge with a 40-point defeat in the second leg.
Last Time Out: Russia won their group behind a last second shot by Sergey Monya to top Slovenia. Finland stunned Montenegro, 71-65, to get their second win in the EuroBasket and eventually the spot in this round.
Key Match-Up: Russia's Aleksey Shved and Finland's Petteri Koponen are an interesting match-up to follow. Both are part of the 1988 generation. Both have shined in Youth European Championships. Both play the point guard position. Both are very tall for their position (1.95m). They are both very athletic and creative with the ball. Both are playing their first EuroBasket and are doing a great job on their teams.
Key Stat: In the first two games against top teams like Croatia and Greece, Finland allowed both to cross the 80-point barrier. Russia isn't a great offensive team but if they dance around that line Finland will have high difficulties to gather that many points against the great Russian defense.
X-Factor: Teemu Rannikko of Finland leads his team in assists so far with 5.4, third best in the entire competition, but his shooting lacks accuracy. He averaged so far only 4.2 points and hit just two of 18 long-range attempts. He's by far a much better shooter and scorer. Skills that got him all the way to a Russian powerhouse as Khimki Moscow in the past. Finland must have Rannikko in scoring form to have a chance.
Sounding Off: "I think we have changed some traditional Finnish thoughts that our teams can never win at the end of games. We have now shown that we are capable of finishing close games. We are a team that has to move the ball and ourselves because we can't play power basketball." - Finland coach Henrik Dettmann