July 5 (Reuters) – Iran will join the United States, France and the Czech Republic in Group A at the Tokyo Olympics basketball tournament after qualifying for the round. The Games are being held from July 23 to Aug. 8, in Japan.
The Czech Republic became the last team to seal a berth in the Tokyo Olympics men’s basketball tournament after blowing away Greece 97-72 in the final of their qualifying event on Sunday.
Patrik Auda led the charge with 20 points as the Czechs stunned tournament hosts Canada 103-101 in Saturday’s thrilling semi-final.
Italy, European champions Slovenia and Germany sealed their own spots in Tokyo earlier on Sunday. The Italians stunned 2016 silver medallists Serbia 102-95, Slovenia beat Lithuania 96-85, and Germany overpowered Brazil 75-64 in tournaments played across Europe.
Italy and Germany will join Australia and Nigeria in Group B at the Games while Slovenia, who qualified for the Olympics for the first time as an independent nation, is heading to Group C alongside world champions Spain, Argentina and hosts Japan.
Serbia were without the NBA regular season’s Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic, who pulled out of the qualifying tournament due to fatigue, and the home side sorely missed the Denver Nuggets centre against Italy.
The Italians carved out a 25-point lead midway through the third quarter after nailing nine three-pointers in the first half and then held off a late Serbia rally to reach their first Olympics since Athens 2004, when they won the silver medal.
Guard Nicolo Mannion led the Italians with 24 points, Achille Polonara added 22, and Simone Fontecchio chipped in with 21 as Serbia’s porous defence failed to deal with their rivals’ long-range shooting and offensive rebounds.
Having won the European title in 2017, Slovenia advanced on the back of an effervescent performance from Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, who racked up 31 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds against the Lithuanians.
After a balanced first half, Slovenia pulled away in the second and silenced the raucous home fans in Kaunas as 22-year-old Doncic pulled all the strings to win the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
“I don’t care about the MVP award because what matters is that we won the tournament and reached the Olympics for the first time,” a delighted Doncic said in a courtside interview.
“Like every child in Slovenia, I too dreamed all my life of being in the Olympic games. We are a small nation but we have a lot of potential and we’ve made history here.”
Germany knocked out hosts Croatia in Split on Saturday and followed up with a superb defensive performance against Brazil as they led throughout the low-scoring contest.
Moritz Wagner stood out with a game-high 28 points for the Germans, while Brazil guard Vitor Benite scored only nine at the other end after he was confined to making a mere three of 18 shots from the field.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Hugh Lawson;Editing by Peter Rutherford )