The field for men’s basketball at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is set.
Following an unlikely victory over a Team Canada squad packed with NBA players, the Czech Republic defeated Greece and won a spot in Team USA’s group in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament stage.
Canada’s national team, which included Andrew Wiggins of Golden State for the first time, was eliminated by the Czechs 103-101 in overtime on Saturday night on a buzzer-beating game winner by Tomas Satoransky with 0.9 seconds left.
Then on Sunday, the Czechs won 97-82 over Greece. The Greeks cut their deficit to five points in the third before the Czechs outscored them 29-7 during the rest of the frame. Jan Vesely had 26 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals.
The Czechs will be going to the Olympics for the first time since the formation of their country in 1993, and it's the first time it will be a part of the Games since 1980, when it was a part of Czechoslovakia.
"They're a veteran team that took advantage of us in a lot of different areas. They dominated us on the glass 35-23, their assists were 25-12. The effort was there, but the game wasn't. But that's due to the brilliance of the Czech Republic. They were just much better than us," Greece head coach Rick Pitino said.
Keep that upset in mind when the Olympic Games begin, because strange things happen in FIBA tournaments.
Slovenia, Germany and Italy also qualified for the Tokyo Games, which begin July 24. Gregg Popovich’s loaded Team USA plays its first game July 25 against France. The Americans are locks to get to the knockout phase, set to play the Czech Republic and Iran in the Group Phase, and their side of the quarterfinal bracket will include opponents to be determined after a draw on Aug. 2.
Based upon the qualifying tournaments, Slovenia will be one of the toughest opponents simply because they have Luka Doncic. The Dallas Mavericks star took MVP honors in Kaunas, Lithuania on Sunday after putting up a triple-double of 31 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in front of 11,561 fans at the Zalgiris Arena in a 96-85 victory over Lithuania.
"We're making history for our country," Doncic said. "We can just go up from here."
Slovenia is going to the Olympics for the first time, knocking out a Lithuania team that has been qualifying for the Olympics and the World Championship/World Cup with regularity for three-and-a-half-decades. Doncic’s teammates carried him off the court on their shoulders following the victory, which was fueled by a 14-0 run after Lithuania closed to 71-69.
"I don't care about the MVP," Doncic said. "We won here. We're going to the Olympics, the first time in our country. It's amazing. I think every kid dreams about being in the Olympics. I did, too. So, here we are. We fought really, really hard, and I think we deserve to be here."
Slovenia will play Argentina on July 26, Japan on July 29 and reigning World Cup champion Spain on Aug. 1. The top two teams in each group, plus two wild cards, will make the Olympic quarterfinals.
The qualifying tournaments were played in Canada, Lithuania and Croatia, and all of the home teams failed to qualify. Croatia did not even make it to the final game, getting eliminated by Germany 86-76 on Saturday before Germany defeated Brazil 75-64 on Sunday in the Olympic qualification game.
Brazil, which qualified for London 2012 and hosted Rio 2016, won its first three games by 26, 27 and 28 points, but Germany got 28 points from Moritz Wagner of the Orlando Magic and several crucial defensive possessions in the fourth quarter to pull off the upset. Isaac Bonga of the Washington Wizards did not play. Germany will be grouped with Italy, Nigeria and Australia in Tokyo.
The Aussies, aka the “Boomers,” have added Matisse Thybulle of the Philadelphia 76ers to a squad that already includes NBA players Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Patrick Mills.
In Belgrade, Achille Polonara, who plays for Fenerbahce in Turkey, picked up MVP honors after scoring 22 points with 12 rebounds, as Italy defeated home-team Serbia 102-95 in the final match. Italy will be heading to the Olympics for the 13th time, but the first since 2004 in Athens when it picked up the silver medal after losing to gold medalist Argentina.
The Serbians took the defeat hard.
"This is not a failure, this is a disaster. We wanted to make the people happy. I have to apologize for this. With this approach and this game, we do not deserve to go to the Olympic Games,” said Nemanja Bjelica of the Miami Heat.
Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, the MVP of the 2021 NBA season, opted not to play for the Serbian national team this summer.