Buoyed by fans back home, Latvia keeps fighting for chance at fifth
MANILA, Philippines—Before Latvia embarked on its maiden Fiba World Cup journey, the players vowed to give their all for their countrymen regardless of the circumstance.
Latvia made sure to keep that promise on Thursday less than 24 hours after bowing out of medal contention following a heartbreaking loss to Germany in the quarterfinal.
“We’re just keeping our promise that we made when we left Latvia, we said we’re gonna fight in every single game no matter what game it is. That was the message we relayed to each other,” said forward Davis Bertans.
That’s exactly what Latvia did as it scraped past Italy, 87-82, in the classification round for a chance to finish fifth in the World Cup.
The Latvians overcame a lethargic first quarter and held off the hard-fighting Italians who were without their star forward Simone Fontecchio.
Latvia leaned on the hot hands of Andrejs Grazulis, who unleashed 28 points including the game-clinching triple.
“It’s a slow start but we never let down. We kept fighting and got back in the game and come up with a win and have a chance to play in the fifth set,” said Bertans, who will play for the Oklahoma City Thunder this upcoming NBA season.
“Grazulis is unbelievable. He can score in every way, right, left, mid-range, threes, some of the bank shots, and everything,” he added.
Playing without injured NBA star Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia emerged as this World Cup’s Cinderella team.
Slotted in a tough group, the Latvians defied the odds and took down world power France to secure a spot in the second round, where they continued their fairytale run by taking down defending champion Spain for a place in the quarterfinal.
Latvia came close to making the semifinal with Bertans misfiring on a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds against Germany.
Finishing in the top five would be a big accomplishment for Latvia and its fans back home where coach Luca Banchi said Latvian kids are even watching their games inside their classrooms.
“It’s big coming here. Nobody expected us to be in this position, nobody expected us on the top eight. I think some didn’t even expect us to be playing in the second group round in the top 16. But we don’t care what people think about us. We keep fighting, we play for our country and give everything we got,” said the 6-foot-10 Bertans, who had nine points and five rebounds against Italy.
Latvia battles Lithuania, which eased past Slovenia, 100-84, on Saturday.