Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Petteri Koponen Watch: Beating Belinelli (for protocol only) edition

You know how this works, H.T. with his take on Petteri Koponen's latest outing...

It might be that the final Eurobasket qualification game between Italy and Finland was "for protocol only" since France had already secured their spot in the Eurobasket competition, but it sure as hell wasn't a yawner for either teams. After being butchered and gutted by the Italian sports media, the last home game against Finland was a chance for Italian team to end the summer campaign with some pride. Meanwhile, Finland's hunger just grew after that 4-point win over France and the team was absolutely drooling over their first win over Italy after 1965.

Finland took care of business, end of story. Finland won the game 89-95 (48-50)(BOX SCORE), but in the fourth quarter, it wasn't even that close. Petteri Koponen lead the balanced Finland attack with a superb 26-point performance. Even though Koponen (officially) only had one assist, it must be a question of interpretation only, because he excelled in both guard position and was simply unstoppable when it mattered the most.

Examples? Italy opened the beginning of 3rd quarter with a 14-2 run, but Koponen answered with five quick points to open a 15-2 Finland run. In the second quarter, Marco Belinelli got the crowd going with consecutive triples, but Koponen answered with two long range daggers of his own right in the face of Belinelli.

Even though Koponen took a couple of ill-adviced shots and had two awkward turnovers in 2nd and 3rd quarters, he had a heck of a game and it's safe to say he won this duel against Belinelli. While Belinelli's defense looked mediocre at best, Koponen smothered Italian guards and while Italian offense was built around Belinelli's 1-on-1 decisions, Koponen shared the ball and got everyone involved. Unfortunately the two guys didn't defend each other: Finland's starting small forward Shawn Huff covered Belinelli andItalian point guard Jacopo Giachetti covered Koponen.

Once again, team Finland relied on good, steady team play. Hanno Möttölä (16/5) opened the game with two triples and kept it going throughout the game. Teemu Rannikko (15/5 assists/3 steals) maintained his normal level of play, outplaying more athletic Italian guards. Samuel Haanpää (14/5) had a good shooting day after two 0-point performances and Tuukka Kotti (11/3) had a hot streak in the end of the game. Belinelli had 26 points and Valerio Amoroso 21 for the Italians. The biggest disappointment of the game wasAndrea Bargnani, who ended up with 7 points (field goals 3/8), 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and one technical foul in 35 minutes.

While Italy has dropped down a long way after that 1999 European championship trophy, Finland's future seems bright. Koponen had his share of growing pains and struggles a year ago when he had to accept the national team's starting pg spot, but right now it seems he is comfortable with the role alongside veteran pg Rannikko. There is always room for more improvement, but Koponen seems to be developing into an NBA style guard, being able to challenge his defender one and one in every occasion and not lacking any size and strenght compared to other young guards in the big league. 2009/2010 will definitely be an important year for Koponen; he has to fight for that starting guard position in Virtus Bologna, but if he can turn his rookie year struggles into success, landing a spot with the Blazers can't be that far away.


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