The German basketball team won its first ever medal at the World Basketball Championships, beating New Zealand for third place. Not even the most optimistic supporters had reckoned with such a positive outcome.
More than just a successful soccer nation - Germany brings home medal in basketball
For the first time ever, the German national basketball team took home a medal from a world-class event on Sunday when Dirk Nowitzki and co. beat New Zealand at the World Basketball Championships in Indianapolis 117-94.
Not since the European title in 1993 had Germany shown such a successful display of skill and finesse on the basketball court. And it was only with a trace of disappointment that the Germans failed in a chance to play in the title game after narrowly losing to Argentina 80-86. Argentina lost to Yugoslavia in the championship final.
The team, led by national coach Henrik Dettmann, had surprised fans and critics alike by turning out a strong show throughout the tournament. Germany, recognized and admired for its championship soccer players, was long considered second string when it came to basketball. But the third place win in Indianapolis could change all that in the future.
Speaking to reporters after Sunday’s victory, Dettmann said the bronze medal is evidence of the growth of basketball in Germany.
"I think it is a sign that we’ve slowly progressed and continue to get better," he said. "We were fourth at the European tournament last year, and now we are third at the World Championship."
Much of the credit for the team’s victory goes to Dirk Nowitzki, who racked in a total of 29 points for the German team on Sunday, 25 of which were scored in the first half. The Würzburg-born center, who plays professionally for the Dallas Mavericks, also had eight rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.
Dallas Mavericks center Dirk Nowitzki of Germany looks to pass around Minnesota Timberwolves guards Chauncey Billups in the first round NBA playoffs in Minneapolis.
Nowitzki is Germany’s best-known basketball export and a rising star in the NBA. Time Magazine has even compared the 23-year-old to a young Michael Jordan when it comes to shot reliability. Throughout the Indianapolis championship, the 7-foot Nowitzki put his NBA playing skills to the test, outscoring his competitors to average 24 points to a game. On Sunday he was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
But Nowitzki was not the only shooting star on the German team. Ademola Okulaja scored 21 points, Marko Pesic 11, and Robert Maras and Mithat Demirel 10 points each. Sixty-five percent of all baskets were shot from the field, and 13 of 22 from the three-point line.
Even the top point man from the New Zealand team, Phil Jones (26 points), conceded that it was "tough" playing against a team with strong shooters like Germany. "They had players that stepped up when they needed to and were shooting well," he said after the loss.
Team effort brings victory
Germany started out the tournament strong and had a good showing going into the semi-final match against powerhouse Argentina. But after a slim 86-80 loss, the Germans were forced to be content with a third place playoff against the underdog from down-under, New Zealand.
The "Tall Blacks" as the New Zealanders are called, dominated the court in the first several minutes of the match-up. Playing in front of some 10,000 viewers in the stands, it initially looked like the Germans were in for a defensive fight. Then in the sixth minute Nowitzki began shooting his team to a 21-15 lead. The rest of the team followed, and with just under three minutes left in the first quarter, the Germans posted 10 straight points for a 17-point lead going into the second quarter.
The second quarter produced more of the same strong team effort as Germany took off on a 16-3 run in the first three minutes. By the 18th minute, the Germans had widened the gap by 27 points to 66-39 . By halftime, the Germans were shooting with an impressive 77 percent accuracy.
After the halftime, the New Zealanders had lost much of their reputed endurance and trailed the Germans all the way to the whistle blow. By the end of the third quarter, victory was all but assured with Dittmann's team leading 92-58. The final quarter was just a wrap-up as Germany continued to dominate the court for an end count of 117-94.
Germany’s 117 points were the most scored by any team during the tournament. Not even first placed Yugoslavia and second placed Argentina pitched as many baskets or had such a high shooting accuracy.