Somehow Serbia managed to waste every positive contribution by two time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic to fall to a stunning upset at the hands of Italy in the round of 16 at EuroBasket
With 6.19 left on the clock, Nikola Jokic sat by the scorer’s table waiting to come in as his Serbia side trailed 79-70. It really wasn’t supposed to go like this.
The question before this game was would Italy finally give Nikola Jokic and Serbia their first true test of EuroBasket 2022. The two time MVP had everything his way in group play in Prague but the quirk of tie-breakers meant they got a surprisingly highly fancied opponent in their first knockout game.
Within 5 minutes we appeared to have our answer. Italy were being run ragged by Serbia on both ends and their coach, Gianmarco Pozecco, got a technical in that span for ludicrously over appealing a non foul call. Just playing this version of Serbia, led by the back to back NBA MVP Jokic, can lose teams games before they even start and it felt that way very early in Berlin.
Jokic was enjoying himself, he got a few scores from the stripe early on but far more of his work was in his passing game and on D. A lovely pass to Nikola Kalinic ended up being a four point play. When he was given a chance to get in the offensive paint, mostly denied by his teammates shooting tremendously well from outside rather than Italy’s efforts to stop him, there he was to casually grab an offensive board and make the putback lay-up.
It’s how easy it looks for him that makes Jokic so terrifying. Whereas the athleticism of a Giannis Antetokounmpo or fury of a Luka Doncic bring assorted nightmares, there’s something about a guy being able to just big brother you without looking like it is taking much out of him.
That’s the way it has been for Jokic throughout this competition and it was how easy the success looked that had people questioning Serbia. When you beat opponents by an average of 21 points a game, what will you do when you meet a serious challenge? We might have been better off asking if there are that many serious challenges in Berlin for Jokic and Serbia.
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Maybe these battles would be more interesting if Jokic was forced to carry a coffee in one hand while on the floor? He was more likely to fall prey to the threat of a hot beverage than be stretched by this Italy side.
As has so…