How do you stop a 7-foot Finnish unicorn? With a Mini Greek Freak of course.
At least that was the game plan for Greece when they tipped off against surging Finland on the fifth day of EuroBasket group play this afternoon.
And Thanasis Antetokounmpo (older brother of the Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo) took that game plan to heart, playing Finland’s rising star Lauri Markkanen extremely physically throughout the game. He even earned an unsportsmanlike foul late in the fourth quarter when Markkanen beat him on a drive and then Antetokounmpo swung him down by his jersey.
Although Markkanen didn’t play as spectacularly as he had in his previous three EuroBasket games, his 17 points on 5-for-9 from the field and six rebounds were key in Finland’s 89-77 win against Greece.
Most importantly, that clutch gene that has defined his EuroBasket experience thus far remains firmly rooted in his body. Although he missed a similar shot later in the fourth quarter, this tough 3-point shot with about five minutes remaining in the game returned the momentum to the Finnish side for good after Greece had cut a double-digit lead down to four.
Missed his man wide open under the basket, took an impossible 3, SPLASH. pic.twitter.com/HFoz6PlEZw— Will Gottlieb (@wontgottlieb) September 5, 2017
Markkanen produced most of his damage when Antetokounmpo wasn’t directly guarding him (Finland was getting a lot of switches). If you weren’t watching closely, you would have thought it was Zach LaVine out there the way Markkanen was throwing down highlight-reel dunks.
Antetokounmpo made it difficult for him offensively. Markkanen struggled to establish post position against the long, lengthy Greek big man which limited his touches. However, Markkanen did have a few highlight moments against the Mini Greek Freak which was encouraging to see considering his physical profile is more indicative of the size/athleticism combination that Markkanen will face in the NBA.
Markkanen has been working the glass so well in this tournament. Gets the foul call here. https://t.co/Y4ETjvlgPd— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) September 5, 2017
Markkanen boxes out Antetokounmpo and gets the and-one. He's been workin' hard today already. https://t.co/8D2sbA2Wur— Michael Whitlow (@couldbelikemike) September 5, 2017
Markkanen’s ability to rebound in traffic against long, physical big men was one of his major question marks coming out of college. That is why it was so encouraging to see him make these two plays. He finished with six rebounds, and three were on the offensive end. He also shot eight free throws.
Finland improved to 3-1 in group play. Their final group phase game is tomorrow against Iceland.