Georgia Makes its Mark at EuroBasket 2015

It may have ended in glorious failure, but there is little doubt that Georgia left an irremovable mark on this month’s European Basketball Championships (EuroBasket).

On September 13, Georgia pushed Lithuania, finalists in the 2013 edition and one of the tournament favorites, all the way in a thrilling last 16 encounter in Lille, France.

With the Georgians leading by a point at half-time, an advantage that ought to have been greater given their first-half dominance, their Baltic opponents squirmed their way to a 85-81 victory, denying the Georgians an historic place in the quarter-finals.

Indeed, Georgia led going into the final quarter with NBA star and captain Zaza Pachulia spearheading the attack with 23 points.

His impressive efforts were overshadowed though by Lithuania’s Jonas Maciulis who netted 34 points to steer the much-fancied Lithuanians to a nerve-jangling triumph.

Despite Georgia’s defeat, the team led by Serbian coach Igor Kokoskov was praised on the official EuroBasket 2015 website for its “fine progress”.

Indeed, Georgia’s existence at the tournament was Lazarus-like with elimination appearing an inevitability after losing their first three matches in the group stage held in the Croatian capital of Zagreb.

A shock loss in the opener to Netherlands on September 5 appeared to derail any hopes of knockout stage qualification, a gloomy forecast that was only made bleaker by subsequent defeats to Slovenia and Greece.

That left the Georgians with a do-or-die clash against Macedonia on September 9, in front of a sparsely populated Arena Zagreb. As has often bene the case in Georgia’s history, not only in sport, they reacted strongly to an unpromising situation and ran out comfortable victors, sweeping aside the Macedonians with a 90-75 success.

Pachulia, as ever, was instrumental with 23 points and 14 rebounds while Giorgi Tsintsadze contributed six assists to the suddenly revived Georgians.

That essential victory was followed by one of the most sensational results in the group stage as Georgia comfortably defeated group hosts Croatia 71-58 in front of their own fans with cult hero Viktor Sanikidze the top performer for the heroic Georgians with 12 points and five rebounds.

That sensational result, even though Croatia had already qualified, goes down as one of Georgia’s finest in its three appearances at European finals.

Tornike Shengelia also enjoyed an impressive tournament, registering Georgia’s highest average score.

This year’s final takes place on Sunday 20 September.

Alastair Watt

17 September 2015 21:11