Serbia is heading to the semifinals of the 2016 Olympic men's basketball tournament after topping Croatia, 86-83, in the quarterfinals Wednesday night. The team will face Australia for a chance to reach the gold medal game.
This was a surprisingly close contest after Serbia led by 14 points entering the fourth quarter. Croatia battled back to cut the lead to as little as one point, but never got ahead. In one crucial moment with 27.2 seconds remaining, Croatia got called for a foul while trying to grab a rebound down by three points. The result was two free throws for Serbia's Miroslav Raduljica, and he hit one of them to extend the lead to two possessions.
However, Serbia couldn't easily put the game away. It became a back-and-forth with both teams hitting free throws in the final 30 seconds. Serbia did just enough to seal it.
Croatia was brought down by a sloppy offense, which led to 18 turnovers. The team shot 44 percent from the field, but Serbia was able to take advantage of the turnovers and 13 offensive rebounds. Combined with a strong defensive effort, Serbia is now on its way to the semis.
It was also a battle of Bogdanovics, with each team's racking up numbers.
Bojan Bogdanovic finished off a stellar tournament for Croatia. The Nets forward recorded 28 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the game, his latest strong scoring performance. In six games in Rio, Bogdanovic averaged 25.3 points per game on 51 percent shooting, including 45 percent from three-point range. He scored at least 18 points in every game and 28 or more in three of the last four.
On the other end, Bogdan Bogdanovic had a big game for Serbia. The guard, who was an NBA first-round pick in 2014 and turns 24 on Thursday, scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting and dished out five assists in 23 minutes. His NBA rights are currently held by the Sacramento Kings after a trade with the Phoenix Suns.
Serbia will now move on to face a red-hot Australian team in the semifinals. The Boomers went 4-1 during group play with their only loss coming to Team USA, then had no issues in a 26-point win over Lithuania in the quarterfinals. Their offense, led by Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills, has turned defenses upside down and should give Serbia trouble. Then again, the winner of that game will likely meet Team USA in the gold medal match, so trouble is around the corner either way.
2 things we learned
Serbia turned it around with Nikola Jokic
The Nuggets big man has looked so, so good at times for Serbia in Rio, and yet again Jokic stepped up in this one. He was very quiet in the first half, then delivered in the second half with the veteran Raduljica struggling to take control in the middle. This is a player who often overpowers opposition in the NBA, and Jokic has turned the Olympics into a breakout performance.
Jokic might be somewhat inexperienced and he plays the same position as Raduljica, but he's one of the most talented players Serbia has. With Raduljica struggling so badly, they turned to Jokic in the second half and he proved to be a game-changer. In the end, he finished with 12 points, three rebounds and three assists. That isn't incredible, but he was 5-of-6 from the free throw line and was key in closing things out. For a 21-year-old, it was impressive.
The future is bright for Croatia
Croatia fell short of winning its first Olympic medal since 1992, but it's clear that this team will be dangerous on the international scene for a long time. Dario Saric used the Rio Games to show how far he's come in recent years, and Mario Hezonja gives the team another exciting building block. This wasn't the best game for either one, although Hezonja was second in scoring with 16 points. Still, Croatia is a team to watch in the future.
That's two very good pieces, and there should be more in the pipeline for a country with a rich basketball history. With Bogdanovic, Hezonja and Saric, there's a very good core already in place for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Expect Croatia to be even better four years from now.