Sports

Fouling up by 27 late. Trying to score for the other team. All part of Olympic basketball qualifiers

Luka Doncic fouled an opponent to try to get the ball back with Slovenia up by 27 points in the final seconds. Goga Bitadze tried to ensure that Georgia — his own team — would not win in regulation by attempting to score in an opponent’s basket as time was expiring. And the Philippines, down by three as time was running out in its game, had no interest in trying to win.

And here’s the thing: All those plays made a lot of sense.

Tiebreaker scenarios in the Olympic qualifying tournament games on Thursday led to some rather unusual decisions, the likes of which wouldn’t be seen in most games.

“Yeah, it was a little bit strange,” Gregor Horvat of Slovenia said. “But that’s basketball.”

Let’s explain:

Slovenia needed to win by 10 points to advance to the semifinals and needed to win by 29 points to finish first in its group — meaning it almost certainly would avoid playing host Greece in the semifinals on Saturday at Piraeus.

The first task was done: Slovenia was up by 27 with about 17 seconds left, so advancing was certain. But Luka Doncic wanted that first-place finish, so he fouled New Zealand’s Shea Ili — who made one of two free throws, cutting the lead to 26.

Doncic had a good look at a corner 3 for what would have been the 29-point, group-clinching win, but it bounced off the rim with about two seconds left and time expired.

He could only laugh. Slovenia won 104-78, and Doncic finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists — an exceptional effort, but his teammates gave him some good-natured grief afterward.

“I mean, he missed the last shot,” Horvat said. “No, I’m joking. It’s unbelievable to have a player like that. He gives us extra confidence and it’s so much easier to play.”

All the Philippines had to do to advance was win by any margin or lose by 18 or fewer points.

As such, they seemed very happy to settle for a loss in the final moments.

The Philippines had the ball as time was expiring, down by three, and basically tried to run out the clock — making no effort to tie the game, given the bigger goal of making the semifinals of the tournament in Riga, Latvia, was in hand. Georgia needed to win by 19 to advance, and the only way that was going to happen was if it went on a miracle run in overtime.

“We couldn’t go into overtime,” Philippines coach Tim Cone said. “We just felt we didn’t want to give them an opportunity to extend the lead in overtime.”

Georgia fouled with about three seconds left — something teams with the lead at the end of games never would intentionally do under normal circumstances — sending Chris Newsome to the line for the Philippines. Newsome made the first free throw and missed the second.

“I should have had him hold the ball and just not even shoot that second free throw and get a violation,” Cone said. “That would have been the smart move. I blanked out, I didn’t think about it. We were lucky we didn’t go into overtime.”

Goga Bitadze grabbed the rebound and actually tried to score in the Philippines’ basket, his shot rimming out.

So, Georgia won the game 96-94 — but saw its Olympic hopes end. And the Philippines lost — but celebrated a berth in the semifinals.

“This was mission impossible today,” Georgia coach Aleksander Dzikic said.

___

AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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