The Tall Blacks sponsored by Security Placements, bowed out of contention at the FIBA World Cup but showed they very much belong on the world stage alongside the world’s best teams in a 97-103 defeat to the world’s number 8 ranked team containing NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in Nanjing tonight.
Greece started strong in this game, leading by nine points after the first quarter thanks to Antetokounmpo's 11-point explosion, but New Zealand weren't going down without a fight. Bucking early foul trouble plaguing big man Isaac Fotu, the Tall Blacks leaned on the hot hand of prolific guard Corey Webster, who scored 21 points in the first and second periods, to stick around, 51-44, at halftime.Coach Paul Henare's wards continue to fight toe-to-toe with the Greeks in the second half, but they couldn't mount a big enough rally to overhaul the deficit. Even with some late-game three-point bombs, the Tall Blacks fell short, and once the final buzzer sounded, it was Antetokounmpo and his teammates who raised their fists in joyous triumph.
The loss leaves the Tall Blacks third in Group F and consigned to fight for placings 17 to 32, with Greece joining Brazil in advancing from the group to the round of 16. But like the close defeat to Brazil, tonight’s defeat was one that highlighted how talented and courageous this team is, taking one of the traditional superpowers to the brink, earning plenty of respect along the way.
Indeed there is no rest for the Tall Blacks or time to feel sorry for themselves, with the FIBA dictated schedule allowing for approximately four or five hours of sleep before flying to Shenzen and then a two hour bus journey to Donguan where the New Zealanders will play Japan (in less than 48 hours) and Turkey in classification cross-over games to decide their final ranking.