The Czech Republic rolled to a 97-70 triumph over Latvia in the game for seventh place at EuroBasket 2015 on Friday in Lille to claim their best-ever finish in the competition and, crucially, the last ticket to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.
Turning Point: Latvia out-rebounded the Czechs 7-0 early on and grabbed an 18-12 lead. Once the Czechs restored the balance on the glass however it fuelled their relentless defensive effort, as they finally could reap the rewards for tirelessly switching and offering generous help. A Jan Vesely floater 2:49 from the end of the opening quarter ignited an 11-1 run for the Czech Republic to go into the second quarter leading 28-23, never to look back or even stall again.
Stats Don't Lie: The Czechs dominated every stat category except rebounds (and, consequently, second-chance points) but their superiority was particularly striking in one aspect. They scored 16 points off the 15 Latvian mistakes during the first three quarters, when they built their massive cushion. Latvia meanwhile scored no points off the six Czech turnovers in the opening 30 minutes.
Game Hero: Every player in the Czech Repubic's second unit deserves praise for their superb second-quarter play on both ends which stretched the gap to 21 points by the half-time buzzer. But it is hard to look past Jan Vesely's game-high 24 points on a quasi-perfect 11-of-13 shooting and even harder to ignore the astonishing highlight reel with which he signed off this tournament.
Bottom Line: The Czech Republic's previous best finish at a EuroBasket tournament was 12th, in 1999. They have also earned the right to dream with a berth in next year's Olympics, for the first time in history. The fact Latvia qualified for the quarter-finals is an improvement on recent years, but scant consolation for the fact they are the only team to make the last eight and not gain a spot in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, or in fact the Olympics.
They Said: "It's an historical day for Czech basketball because we have earned the chance to fight for something that many generations of players in our country did not have the chance to fight for. We had two losses in two days and it wasn't easy to come back and play this game. So we sat down last night and I told the guys that we're not playing for seventh place, nobody wants to play for seventh, I told them we were playing for the dream to take part in the Olympics." - Czech Republic captain Jiri Welsch.