SHENZHEN, China: Greece’s coach said that NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo had been the victim of a lack of “respect” after being fouled out as the team narrowly exited the Basketball World Cup on Monday.
The Milwaukee Bucks standout picked up a questionable, fifth foul midway through the fourth quarter and even though Greece beat the Czech Republic 84-77, it was not enough.
Greece, targeting an unlikely spot in the quarterfinals, needed to win by 12 or more points to stay alive in the tournament in China.
They went for broke in the fourth quarter and were up by 10 points with just over eight minutes left, as the tension went up a notch in Shenzhen.
Greece reached the magic 12-point lead, only for the Czechs to immediately hit back to narrow the deficit once more, then came the crucial loss of the 24-year-old Antetokounmpo.
He was seen remonstrating with the officials after Greece’s fate was sealed, but overall, the reigning MVP was not on the top of his game at the World Cup.
“He came every day to fight on the court, of course he did not get the respect he wants and I mean about the two fouls he received today, the third and the fifth,” said Greece coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos.
“You cannot call these kinds of fouls on this kind of player.”
“That’s finished because I don’t like to talk about the referees too much.”
Antetokounmpo had 12 points, nine rebounds and four assists before his afternoon — and Greece’s tournament — came to an early end.
Despite losing, the Czechs now need a USA victory over Brazil later on Monday to reach the quarterfinals.
Skourtopoulos made the surprising admission that he and his coaching team had failed to get the most out of their star man, the so-called ‘Greek Freak’.
“It’s the first time we had him with us with this status of MVP, in these 25 days we tried to do the best we can… I can say maybe we did not make the correct options. We worked very hard to support him.”
He added: “I am sorry because we disappointed a lot of fans in Greece and fans who supported us here.”
Yao blames himself
Basketball legend Yao Ming said he blamed himself for host nation China’s poor performances at the Basketball World Cup after their latest chastening defeat on Sunday.
Sunday’s 86-73 loss to Nigeria in the classification round for teams outside the top 16 means China have failed to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics directly from the World Cup, just days after the shock of crashing out at the group stage.
The popular former NBA star became president of the Chinese Basketball Association in 2017 pledging to reform a state development system he said was badly in need of an overhaul, raising hopes of a resurgence in China’s most popular sport.
But the hosts failed to qualify for the last 16 after losing to Poland and Venezuela before the Sunday’s reverse against the Africans in Guangzhou.
Asked in a press conference after the Nigeria game who took responsibility for China’s poor performance, a grim-faced Yao responded “Me”, before walking away.
Former Houston Rockets All-Star Yao led China to some of their best results in global competitions, fuelled basketball’s popularity in China and raised expectations of a strong run at their home World Cup.
“It is me who disappointed the fans,” NBA Hall-of-Famer Yao said after the game.
“The fans had great expectation for China at the World Cup, but we could not make it,” he added.
“(The World Cup) is a window for us to look out the world. The gap between China and the world-leading basketball countries has been enlarged.”