Giannis Antetokounmpo Leads Greece To Olympic Qualifying Semi-Finals

Mar 13, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA;Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dribbles around Brooklyn Nets forward Thaddeus Young (30) in the first half at Barclays Center. Milwaukee defeats Brooklyn 109-100. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 13, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA;Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) dribbles around Brooklyn Nets forward Thaddeus Young (30) in the first half at Barclays Center. Milwaukee defeats Brooklyn 109-100. Mandatory Credit: William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports /

Giannis Antetokounmpo put on a top-class performance as Greece beat Mexico and advance to the Olympic Qualifying semi-finals.

Heading into Wednesday’s matchup with Mexico, the Greece national basketball team knew exactly where they stood.

With their opening win over Iran having been matched by the Mexicans on Tuesday, both teams were guaranteed to advance from the group and compete at the semi-final stage.

Still, the stakes were high, and with the prospect of a semi-final against Italy and a raucous home crowd awaiting the loser, there was certainly no shortage of motivation to come out and top the group overall.

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In the early running, it was Mexico rather than Greece who seemed to be the most aware of the permutations.

The Mexicans came out playing aggressively, pushing the pace on both ends and knocking down some jump shots. As a result, Greece looked disjointed and often reckless, as turnovers proved a problem from the opening tip.

If Greece wanted to come out on top, they were going to need their star player to step up and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly delivered.

The Greek Freak got the scoring underway for his team, as he continued to demonstrate the improved shooting range that had seen him make a number of long balls in his previous game against Iran.

In spite of the insistence of Greek coach Fotios Katsikaris prior to the tournament, Antetokounmpo was in some ways forced to look for those shots due to spending most of his time playing off-the-ball.

Nick Calathes continued to run the point for Greece, but whenever the ball landed in Giannis’ hands, he showed aggression, and good things generally happened thereafter. Two made free throws were quickly followed up by a strong drive and impressive finish.

As is the usual with Antetokounmpo, there were highlights from the defensive end too. Just as his long arms had caused a lot of disruption among the Iranians, the Mexicans were on the receiving end of a couple of impressive Giannis blocks. The first of which came as the clock wound down in the first quarter.

As coach Katsikaris had done in the tournament’s opening game, he let Antetokounmpo rest for the majority of the second period, as the Greek bench steadied the ship but failed to make any real inroads into the Mexican lead.

When Giannis returned to the floor, he didn’t have a lot of time on his hands to work with before the break, but he did send something of a message. For anyone who wasn’t convinced by his shooting of late, the long-armed Greek lulled his defender into a false sense of security with the dribble before knocking down a super smooth three-pointer.

Still, in spite of Antetokounmpo’s jumper putting the rest of the NBA on alert in the first half, Mexico entered the break leading 35-33. Greece needed a much better second half.

Antetokounmpo emerged in the third quarter with the apparent intention of delivering just that, and single-handedly turned the game on its head within a few short minutes.

Although he continued to play mostly off the ball, a key factor in that surge from Antetokounmpo was the excellent link-up play and understanding between him and Calathes.

First, the former Grizzlies guard dropped a beautiful pass back to a trailing Antetokounmpo who used his long arms and increasingly strong body to lay it in through the contact at the rim.

That combination was put to even better effect a couple of minutes later. Antetokounmpo corralled in a rebound and immediately looked to get out and run. A quick give-and-go with Calathes later and we had a trademark thunderous slam to finish the play.

That same athleticism was continuing to reap rewards on defense too, as Antetokounmpo notched up his second rejection of the contest.

With one last reminder of his soft shooting touch, Antetokounmpo wrapped up the third quarter with one more triple for good measure.

Having trailed by two at the start of the second half, Antetokounmpo ensured that Greece entered the final quarter with a 12 point lead.

As such, there was no need for him to return. Giannis helped Greece to establish the necessary cushion and then got to take the final quarter off, as the bench were tasked with maintaining the lead.

The game finished 86-70 in Greece’s favor, and Antetokounmpo concluded his night’s work with 21 points, five rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes of action. Shooting 6-10 from the field, 3-5 from deep and 6-6 from the free throw line rounded off an incredibly impressive performance for the 21-year-old.

Greece will now play the winner of the game between Croatia and Tunisia that takes place later on Wednesday in Turin.

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That semi-final matchup will take place on Friday as Greece will hope to see another big performance from their young talisman.