Greece topple Tall Blacks

Giannis Antetokounmpo takes the ball to the hoop against Rob Loe as Corey Webster watches on....
Giannis Antetokounmpo takes the ball to the hoop against Rob Loe as Corey Webster watches on. Photo: Getty Images
For just the second time in their Basketball World Cup history, the Tall Blacks will not be playing in the second round.

Requiring a victory over Greece to qualify for the last 16, the Tall Blacks were right in with a shout of a major upset through three periods, but NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo proved too much handle, securing a 103-97 victory, and ending a superb World Cup streak.

The Tall Blacks were just one of four sides to have made the last 16 at every Cup since 2002. The other three – USA, Spain and Argentina – are moving on, but the Tall Blacks instead go into the consolation bracket, where they will play Turkey and Japan, with their only potential prize locking in a spot at the Olympic qualifying tournament.

New Zealand have missed the chance to qualify automatically, with Australia earning Oceania's designated Olympic spot after they advanced to the last 16, locking themselves in to finish ahead of the Tall Blacks.

Despite their historical record, the Tall Blacks failing to advance is exactly what a neutral pundit would have predicted – Brazil and Greece were always favoured to make the next stage, and promptly did so. The Tall Blacks' hopes of another appearance in the final 16 wasn't helped by a tougher group phase, where just 50% of their pool advanced, as opposed to prior World Cups, where four of the six sides progressed from each group.

But, the Tall Blacks have made a name for themselves in overcoming odds, and although they came rather close, they couldn't manage to do the same in 2019.

In the end, they were left to rue a dreadful five and half minutes which cost them a chance of victory over Brazil, and while they bounced back to beat Montenegro, the world No 8 Greece were always likely to be too difficult, although the Tall Blacks gave them a fair fight.

This time, it wasn't the third quarter which proved problematic, but the first, with a sloppy stretch at the end of the opening period seeing Greece take a lead they would never relinquish. Rob Loe's worst moments of an otherwise impressive tournament saw him turn the ball over three times and miss four free throws, and Greece opened up a 28-19 lead.

As he had all tournament, Corey Webster's shooting kept the Tall Blacks in the hunt, knocking down five threes on his way to 21 first-half points. However, from the six minute mark of the third quarter until 35 seconds to go in the fourth, Webster went scoreless as Greece found the way to shut him down, while the Tall Blacks were left overmatched by the talents of Antetokounmpo.

The Milwaukee Bucks standout was fouled 15 times as he proved predictably difficult to stop off the dribble, and as the Tall Blacks constantly packed the paint against him, he did well to find open shooters, finishing with six assists to go with 10 rebounds and 24 points.

The Tall Blacks hung tough, winning the second and third quarters with a cleaner, more efficient showing as Tom Abercrombie perked up, and pegged the deficit back to five points with a quarter remaining. However, Antetokounmpo's incredible impact saw more shooters freed early in the fourth quarter, and three consecutive triples ballooned the lead back out to 12 points.

New Zealand didn't die wondering – again dragging themselves back within five points with five minutes to play - but Greece didn't flinch at the Tall Blacks' desperate final punches, as they moved on to the second round, and the Tall Blacks – for once – did not.

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