(Reuters) – An electric display of scoring by Slovenian captain Goran Dragic paved the way for his side’s stunning 93-85 victory over neighbors Serbia as they were crowned Eurobasket champions for the first time after a thrilling final on Sunday.
Dragic, who plays for the NBA’s Miami Heat, lit up the second period and finished the game with 35 points, seven rebounds and three assists in what is likely to be his final game for the national team, should he make good on his pledge to now step away from international basketball.
Thousands of fans traveled from the Balkans to turn the Sinan Erdem Arena in Istanbul into a cauldron of noise as two men’s senior basketball teams from the former Yugoslavia met in a final for the first time.
With the referees content to allow plenty of physical contact, both teams opted for an attacking approach in the first quarter, trying to carve out openings around the basket.
Serbia led 22-20 at the end of the first period, but five quick Slovenian points caused them to take a quick time-out at the start of the second.
A superb break and dunk by Luka Doncic kept the Slovenian run going and the 31-year-old Dragic then caught fire, scoring freely and netting a pair of vital three-pointers to give his side a nine-point lead at half-time.
The Serbs were resurgent in the third, keeping their opponents scoreless for over three and a half minutes as they closed the gap to just a single point, leading Dragic to rally his team-mates during a time-out.
His passionate words had the desired effect as Slovenia started to stretch their lead again. However, as the fourth quarter wore on Dragic tired noticeably and Serbia were able to take the lead halfway through the period.
As Dragic limped to the bench with an injury, Klemen Prepelic took over, grabbing rebounds and scoring two crucial free throws as Slovenia dug deep to take the lead again and seal a historic victory over their bitter rivals in their first major final.
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor in Stockholm; Editing by Christian Radnedge)