One Giant Moment: Turkey Advances to FIBA Final at Home
Suddenly, Turkey coach Bogdan Tanjevic interrupted Tunceri and answered the question himself.
"You think it was a tactical thing?" Tanjevic said to the questioner. "Nothing except luck."
Whatever you might call it, Turkey will take it. After what looked like a possible turnover by star forward Hedo Turkoglu, Tunceri made a layup with five-tenths of a second remaining Saturday before a raucous crowd at the Sinan Erdem Dome to earn the greatest basketball win in the nation's history. Turkey beat Serbia 83-82 in the FIBA World Championship semifinal to earn a date with Team USA in Sunday's championship game.
It is said soccer is by far the most popular sport in the country but few could remember a soccer celebration like the one Saturday. The fans went wild and sang following the victory. Turkish players made a dogpile at midcourt before eventually getting up to dance.
"It was an amazing game," said guard Sinan Guler. "A great experience. I can't put it into words."
"It was the biggest moment for Turkish basketball," said Tunceri, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the final quarter as his team fought back after trailing 72-64 with 5-1/2 minutes left. "The first time in the (World) finals. We are so so happy."
But what about that last-second basket. Was it luck or not? With Turkey down 82-81 and 4.3 seconds left, Ender Arslan had inbounded at midcourt to Turkoglu, who fumbled the ball before it went to Tunceri on the left side.
"It was kind of lucky," Tunceri said. "Hedo tried to penetrate and he almost lost the ball. I get the ball so wide open and I got a layup. I was so happy."
Turkoglu liked the description by Tunceri a heck of a lot better than the one by Tanjevic.
"It was kind of half lose, half pass," said Turkoglu, the Phoenix Suns forward who scored a team-high 16 points. "There were too many (defenders) and they came and I passed the ball to (Tunceri), who was wide open ... I didn't have to take a bad shot."
Whether it was a pass or a fumble, it didn't really matter. Turkey, which had fallen 82-81 when Novica Velickovic made a layup with 4.3 seconds left, secured the victory after a Serbian lay-up attempt after a desperation pass from midcourt failed.
Next come the Americans.
"The Americans are first in the world," Tanjevic said. "If we lose the game, we are the small champions of the world because American basketball is outside our possibility. We play (Sunday) with a little less pressure."
But wait a minute. Tanjevic also said the Turks are in better physical condition than the Americans.
"They have 21 days of preparation," Tanjevic said of Turkey having a much longer training camp heading into the event. "It is a handicap for the United States. We arrived (at the Worlds) in (better) shape."
While that might be debatable, one thing isn't. The Turks will have the crowd on their side Sunday. Of the 15,000 fans on hand, nearly all will be supporting the home team.
"It will be an unbelievable atmosphere," said big man Kevin Love, whose American team beat Lithuania 89-74 in the early semifinal Saturday. "Absolutely, it's going to be the most hostile, hectic crowd anybody (on the American team) ever has played in front of. You can't replicate that, whether it's a playoff game, Game 7 of the NBA Finals. You really just can't replicate that."
Since NBA players began playing with USA Basketball in 1992, it will mark the first significant true road game the team has played. Forget exhibitions. In none of the Olympics or World Championships since then has have the Americans run into a top-notch host team.
The Turks like it that way.
"Our crowd is always behind us," Tunceri said. "They always support us."
Yes, the fans do. Throughout Saturday's game, they regularly sang the song "12 Giant Men," which is the nickname for the team. Flags were waved throughout the arena.
"It will be amazing," Team USA and Lakers center Lamar Odom said of playing against Turkey in Turkey for the World title.
And that's from a guy speaking who three months ago was in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson.