Luka Doncic and Slovenia didn’t have much energy in the first half on Wednesday, and they paid dearly for it in the second half as they were eliminated from the EuroBasket in spectacular fashion.
In a very physical match played in Berlin, festively promoted Poland stunned Slovenia, 90-87, in the quarter-finals of the EuroBasket tournament. For Poland, the victory sent shock waves throughout the international basketball world as they took a 23-point lead in the first half and derailed the defending champions.
It was one of the biggest surprises in the modern EuroBasket era, as no one gave Poland any chance to upset Slovenia, which advanced to the bronze medal match at the Olympics last year.
Poland will now play France in the semi-final match on Friday and Germany will face Spain in the other semi-final match on Friday. The winners will face each other Sunday in the championship match.
“First of all, congratulations to Poland,” Doncic said, who finished the season with 14 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, six turns and a technical foul. “They played a great match from the first minute to the end.
“It was a huge achievement for them. And for us, we didn’t get into the game like we wanted. The energy wasn’t there, but then we came back. But Poland was still fighting, so congratulations to Poland.”
The match physically damaged Doncic, who fell to the ground several times and was limping on various occasions before stumbling 3:02 left and Slovenia trailing 80-76. Doncic said he might not have been 100 percent — he ended up converting only 5 rounds out of 15 — and was occasionally seen clutching his lower back.
“I had an injection in the third quarter,” the Dallas Mavericks star said. “I’ve been dealing with a lot of EuroBasket, but that’s not why (Slovenia lost).
“Today I played terribly. I gave up on my team, I let down the whole country that was supporting us, and that’s on me. I have to get back into this game and be better.”
Behind some great shots from behind the three-point streak and a 12-2 advantage in quick break points, Poland edged out 54-31 late in the second quarter and went 58-39 at the break. Most of the damage to Poland came from Mateusz Bonnetka, who scored 16 points in the first half and finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists.
This was the third triple-double in EuroBasket history.
“He did a great match,” Doncic said. “I’m not surprised. I played against him a few times.
“He’s a great player and a great captain. He’s probably an NBA type player. I’m not the general manager. I’m the player.”
Slovenia got back into the game with some solid defense and also by beating Poland, 24-6, in the third quarter. Poland made little progress, 64-63, in the final inning, winning the jump from Goran Dragic of Slovenia to the front, 65-64, at the start of the fourth quarter.
But after Doncic’s foul, Bonnetka made a pair of free throws, AJ Slaughter scored inside, and Bonnetka added two free throws as Poland advanced 89-80 with 1:01 to go.
However, Slovenia did not go quietly as two free throws from Klemen Prepelic, three pointers from Edo Muric, and one from Dragic cut Poland’s deficit to 90-87 with 31 seconds remaining. But Priblic misfired in attempting a three-point equaliser near midfield with two seconds left, and the celebration began for Poland.
“Especially in that second quarter we had a bad attack, and from bad at the offensive end to bad defense, it was going in a bad direction,” said Slovenia coach Aleksandar Ciculic. “But also give credit to our guys. They fought in the second half.
“The third quarter was amazing. We left everything on the field. We just fought our way back. We made some big mistakes, made some big shots and deserved to win. We lost the game in the first half. That’s the point.”
In addition to Doncic, Slovenia has 21 points from Vlatka Kankar, 17 points, seven rebounds from Dragic, 13 points and five boards from Jaka Blasic.
Besides Ponetka, Poland received significant support from Slaughter (16 points, six rebounds, three steals), Michael Sokolowski (16 points and five rebounds), Jaroslaw Zyskowski (14 points) and Aleksandr Balcirowski (11 points).
“Give the credit to Poland,” Doncic said. “Most of us were favourites, but Poland has a great team.
“EuroBasket was amazing to see. I’m sad we couldn’t get through, but I think this EuroBasket game was something else. There were a lot of great, great teams.”
One of those rookie teams – Poland – caught lightning in a bottle and shocked another of those great teams – Slovenia – on Wednesday.