ISTANBUL -- It took about 10 minutes to play the final 60 seconds of this opening game of the round of 16, and the hero was Partizan Belgrade guard Aleksander Rasic.
After Rasic made two free throws with 21.5 seconds left to make it 70-67, Croatia called its final timeout and set up a play for Marko Popovic (21 points), their go-to guy who had the ball in his hands on practically every Croatian possession over the final 5 minutes. Popovic was fouled and made both free throws with 15.2 seconds left as the Serbian fans taunted him from directly behind the basket he was shooting at.
Croatia's Marko Tomas then stole the ensuing inbounds pass, and Popovic was fouled with 11.6 seconds left but made only one of two from the line, leaving the score tied 70-70. Serbia inbounded from midcourt after a timeout, and all of Croatia's defenders were concentrated near the ball. A screen freed Rasic, and he broke free for an uncontested layup with 9 seconds left.
"It was a mistake by our defense, and it happened at the most unfortunate part of the game," Croatia's Kresimir Loncar said.
Popovic was fouled with 5.9 seconds left and made 'em both to tie it at 72, but Rasic (eight of his 15 points came in the fourth quarter) took the ensuing inbound pass and drove hard all the way downcourt, getting shoved in the back as he went up for an off-balance shot from the lane with 1 second left. He made the first free throw, missed the second intentionally, and that was it.
"I never like to say my players are tired, but we had three tough games [Australia, Argentina, Croatia] in the past four days, and it's important now to get three days of rest," said Serbian coach Dusan Ivkovic, whose team will face the winner of Saturday night's Greece-Spain game in the quarterfinals.