After the win against Estonia, Italy need to go beyond its limits to overcome Greece

Orazio Cauchi
Staff Writer
2022-09-02 23:37

The Italian national team started its EuroBasket journey in the best possible way with a big win against Estonia. But now the game against Greece is gonna represent a huge challenge for coach Pozzecco and his players

Credit: FIBA
Credit FIBA

Five years after the last EuroBasket, when Italy returned to the Olympics for the first time after 17 years, the Azzurri began their new experience in the most important continental tournament just like they wanted, with a big performance against Estonia. 

In an almost sold-out Mediolanum Forum with at least a thousand noisy Estonian fans, coach Pozzecco's team did not succumb to the pressure of playing at home and conquered the win everybody wanted. 

In the first half, Italy moved the ball with great quality and found good shoots from the perimeter. After the first 20 minutes of basketball, Italy was shooting 47% from deep.

Simone Fontecchio made three consecutive three-pointers during the second quarter, igniting the crowd and extending Italy's lead to 15 points. The Utah Jazz wing finished the first half with 17 points and 5/7 from three. 

The lead built in the first half helped Italy to be more in 'cruise control' during the second half and to save some energy for the big game against Greece.

"We had the right approach to the game," Nicolo Melli told BasketNews. "We started really well, in the second quarter, Fontecchio gave us a big lead, and in the third quarter, we were able to control the game and save some energy for tomorrow's game. This could have been a tricky game, but we had the right approach, and I'm happy for this reason".

"We shared the ball extremely well tonight," coach Gianmarco Pozzecco said in the post-game conference. "The picture of our game was Stefano Tonut, he didn't have a great night offensively, but he did a great job on the defensive end, he sacrificed himself for his teammates, that's the spirit."

Tonut shot only 2/9 from the field, but his physical presence on the defensive end was definitely a factor in keeping Estonia at 62 points. 

Even Nico Mannion didn't shoot the ball particularly well, especially from deep, where he went 0/4, but the point guard remains confident, as he revealed to BasketNews after the game. 

"I haven't been shooting the ball too well, and that's something that I come out and say," Mannion explained. "Everybody has these days, but I still feel confident enough to take those shots, and I know that as a shooter, those will fall, leaving out percentages and all the other stuff."

"I'm just blessed to have a great group of guys and a great coaching staff that instill that confidence in me and push me to keep taking shots and play my game," he added.

The Virtus Bologna point guard is coming from a very difficult season, in which multiple injuries and physical issues limited him, but now he feels like the bad days are behind him. 

"I just feel healthy now, you know," Mannion told BasketNews. "I'm moving better, my feet are quicker, my legs are stronger, I can jump much better right now. That's the biggest thing for me because I'm coming from a season in which I wasn't really healthy, and I couldn't give my best". 

Simone Fontecchio was real trouble for Estonia. He was once again the top scorer for the Italian national team, and especially in the first half, every time Estonia tried to come back, he killed their hopes with his great shooting.

After the game, Fontecchio explained that he's feeling really confident at this moment, mostly because his teammates know what he can do. 

"The confidence that I have right now comes from my teammates because everyone trusts me," the Utah Jazz forward said in the mix zone. "That helps me play in a little lighter spirit. I'm happy to help the team in any way I can, not only with my scoring skills. I'm ready to do whatever it takes". 

But while this win against Estonia was expected, coach Pozzecco and his players know that against Greece, a good game won't be enough to obtain a victory. A perfect game is the only way to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Greek squad. 

"We have to play the perfect game tomorrow if we want to win," Achille Polonara said in the post-game conference. "It's not only about Giannis, they have a great team. Dorsey played a fantastic game tonight, so we cannot focus only on Giannis. Team defense will be the only way to win this game."

But before concentrating on Greece, coach Pozzecco took a moment to dedicate the win to Danilo Gallinari. The Italian superstar suffered a knee injury just a few days before the beginning of EuroBasket.

In the beginning, the belief was that Gallinari had suffered 'only' a meniscus tear, a serious injury but one that would have allowed the player to be available again within 3-4 months.

Unfortunately, the new tests made by the Boston Celtics showed that Gallinari suffered a torn ACL, a much more serious injury that will force him to miss the rest of the season.

If that isn't enough, it might put the rest of his NBA career in danger since Gallinari is already 34 years old, and his left knee had already suffered the same injury a few years ago. 

"I want to dedicate tonight's win to Danilo," Pozzecco said. "Unfortunately, he received bad news tonight, but I want to tell him that we're all with him and that we will play for him for the rest of the tournament." 

Winning against Greece will be a tough challenge, but the home factor is something that cannot be overlooked.

Mediolanum Forum will be sold-out for the game against coach Itoudis' side. Sure, there'll be many Greek fans too, but the Italian players hope to take that extra energy from the audience to have an additional chance to beat Greece. 

"Not many teams have the opportunity to play EuroBasket at home; it's huge," Nico Mannion told BasketNews. "Our fans are creating an amazing atmosphere, they're really die-hard fans, and we want to make them proud." 

The first goal was achieved, but there's no time to celebrate or rest; that's EuroBasket at the end of the day. If Italy can put up a great performance against Greece, it could be a sign that, despite its limitations, Coach Pozzecco's team really has something different in it. No one can understand that more than him.

"Of course, we have limits as a team, we're not very tall, and maybe we're not very physical," the Italian national team head coach said. "But I'm sure that we will play a great game tomorrow against Greece because this team can overcome those limits. That's why I'm proud to be their coach."



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