PIRAEUS, Greece — With one bid for the Paris Olympics on the line, Greece and Croatia faced off at Peace and Friendship Stadium. The Greek squad, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, achieved an 80-69 victory, resulting in the program punching its first Olympic ticket since 2008. The team made the most of hosting the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in front of thousands of Greek fans eager for the team’s success.

Antetokounmpo scored 23 points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal, and one block in 28 minutes of action. He was named the tournament MVP after averaging 22.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in his three performances. Other standout performers included Georgios Papaggianis, who scored 19 points. Nick Calethes added 14 points, 11 assists, and five rebounds. It was a balanced effort, with Giannis setting the tone and showing what separated this group from the rest of the field in Piraeus.

Here’s What it Means for Giannis Antetokounmpo to Reach Olympics


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After achieving his long-held goal of guiding his country to the Olympics, he sat on a platform near the court in disbelief, with both hands on his head, taking in a moment he’d long dreamt of realizing. Before he walked off the court, Greek fans showered him with chants of his name, showing appreciation for his impact and dedication to the national team.

“Playing in front of a lot of big fans, their family, and what happened in the past, and just playing competitive,  playing basketball that means something,” Antetokounmpo exclaimed. “This means something for me, for the team, for the country, and to be able to get the job done. It feels good, but this is one job; we have another job in front of us, so hopefully, we get that one done, too.”

When speaking after the match, Antetokounmpo’s voice conveyed his motivation when reflecting on what has been achieved and what is left to accomplish. He’s coming off multiple disappointing postseason exits with the Milwaukee Bucks, with his latest being impacted by another injury. He feels he hasn’t played competitive basketball since 2022, when the Bucks were defeated by the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals, adding further emotion to this feat with Greece.

“I think the last time I played competitive basketball was 2022,” Antetokounmpo admitted. “In 2023, I got hurt. Last year, I got hurt again, and you know, since I was a kid, I have always wanted to play games, and this is something that means a lot to me.”

Many all-time great players tend to find additional methods to light a fire under them while competing. Antetokounmpo’s turned to a previous shortcoming against Croatia that he has held onto since 2016 at the Olympic qualifier in Italy. Giannis remembered his wife’s shirt in the crowd during the 66-61 loss and had her wear the same one again on Sunday for fuel.

“I remember 2016 when I was 20 years old. We played Croatia, and we lost the game, and that memory is stuck in my head; even my wife, in the crowd, I told her to wear the same shirt from that game,” Antetokounmpo detailed. “I remember the shirt that she was wearing. I said, ‘Wear the same shirt.’ Because I feel like these things make you stronger.

The journey began with a comfortable victory over New Zealand that positioned Greece so well in the Group Phase that Antetokounmpo did not have to play in the victory over Egypt before advancing to the semifinals to face a Slovenia team led by Luka Dončić. Antetokounmpo totaled 18 minutes through two games, then only played 21 against Slovenia, allowing him to be well-rested to close out the tournament against Croatia while showcasing how talented Team Hellas is with such a balanced effort.

“We knew that we had the opportunity, something we haven’t done for a lot of years, and we had the opportunity to do it in our house,” Antetokounpmo said. “I think all the whole team, the coaching staff, the players, everybody was strictly focused. We came in every game knowing that we had four finals to play. And I think from game one, no matter if we played a very good team or a not-so-good team, we were focusing on ourselves.”

Everyone around Giannis knows how much this feat means to him, including the Milwaukee Bucks, who have had assistant coach Vin Baker stationed in Greece to help their superstar train and prepare to realize his Olympic dreams. His brother and Bucks teammate Thanasis supported the team despite recovering from a leg injury that required him to wear a boot.

“[The Bucks] never leave me alone. Everywhere I go, they come with me like flies. Have you seen flies everywhere?” Giannis joked. “But no, it’s great to have to be able to come and give you this advice and to watch film.” Giannis Antetokounmpo will play in the Olympics for the first time after this much-deserving victory.

The Balanced Effort Helped Giannis Antetokounmpo Early

Coming off a blowout victory over Slovenia, Greece encountered an opponent much more capable of protecting the paint against Antetokounmpo, with Ivica Zubac anchoring the defense. Containing the two-time NBA MVP was the clear-cut priority of the team’s defensive game-planning efforts while being unable to effectively punish the opposition with size on offense since Greece is well equipped to handle it.

As a true superstar does, Giannis capitalized when he had chances to use his size and athleticism to finish at the rim. However, he was willing to take pull-up jumpers against deep drop coverage throughout the game to keep the defense honest. He delivered in timely moments while the rest of the offense clicked to go along with it, making it challenging for Croatia to string together necessary defensive stops.

“He’s an excellent player. He’s huge. He can keep the door penetrated—go on one step, other step,” Croatia head coach Josip Sesar said of Giannis Antetokounmpo. “He made shots from three to five meters. We decided to close the ring and I don’t know, he’s a player for the highest level, maybe one of the best players in the world and he scored some easy points for four or five medalists. Today, we did not have not much luck.”

Greece flexed what makes their team so challenging to handle. Papagiannis proved to be a valuable release valve as heavy defensive attention was placed on Antetokounmpo by scoring 10 points in the opening period alone. Meanwhile, Greece received plenty of pull-up jumpers from guards to punish Croatia’s drop coverage.

Croatia held firm early despite Greece emphasizing paint protection and facing an inability to convert from beyond the arc, resulting in the game being tied 22-22 at the end of the first quarter. A pivotal element was Mario Hezonja’s early success, who scored 10 in the opening half by aggressively attacking the rim often.

With Antetokounmpo on the bench, a pull-up three-pointer from Vasileios Toliopoulos, followed by a putback from Thomas Walkup, established a 37-29 advantage midway through the second period. Croatia began to leverage Dario Šarić more in the post with Zubac on the court to capitalize on a brief size advantage. A four-point play from Mateo Dreznjak proved pivotal in diminishing the momentum Greece had established, making it 37-33.

With Calethes having a considerable size advantage against Goran Filipovic, he posted up and found Papagiannis for a catch-and-shoot three-pointer. This became the first of a series of post-ups for the veteran guard. Antetokounmpo checked back into the game after a foul on Filipovic. Meanwhile, Croatia subbed out Filipovic to maximize size.

Zubac pulled off an and-one against Antetokounmpo using a jump hook, followed by Giannis airballing a baseline jumper when trying to go right back at Zubac on the other end. Greece’s empty possession resulted in Dreznjak getting a clean look from deep, making the defense pay. Croatia trailed just 40-39 with 1:33 left before halftime. A short-range jumper from Antetokounmpo, followed by a three-pointer by Papanikolaou, established a 45-39 edge for Greece at the break, as Papagiannis already scored 16, while Antetokounpmo added 11.

This is How Greece Created Separation After Halftime!

Greece’s quick 5-0 run increased the team’s lead to nine points out of halftime, but Croatia responded to keep the momentum from slipping. It didn’t stop Greece from attacking, particularly Calethes, who got aggressive as a scorer, whether taking a step-back three-pointer or turning the corner on a drive against drop coverage for a floater. The Hellas held the first double-figure edge of the night midway through the third period.

Giannis Antetokounmpo checked back into the game with his team in front 60-50 and 3:11 left to play before the fourth quarter. At this point, he was deployed as a small-ball center to quickly run the floor in transition and maximize spacing in the half-court. A steal by Giannis exemplified this concept, leading to a transition foul when he pushed it up the court.

“They didn’t play very big, you have to adapt… The best players in the world are adapting,” Antetokounmpo explained. “That’s what I try to do, and I’m happy that we’re able to get the win. But, the other thing is that this game, I think, the FIBA game, to be way more patient and let it come to me.”

Coming out of a timeout, a pull-up jumper from the “Greek Freak” made it a 14-point game as Zubac sagged off him to dare him to shoot. The game fell out of Croatia’s control without a strong close to the third period with roughly two minutes on the board. When Zubac fouled Antetokounmpo on a roll to the rim, a technical foul was called, and Greece ended the frame up 66-53. It was a missed opportunity for a team playing in front of Greek fans who could feel the anticipation in the building regarding clinching an Olympic bid.

A flashy no-look pass from Calethes to a 45-cutter leading to a finish was a momentum-boosting play for Greece. Team Hellas later subbed Papaggianis back into the game to maximize size on the court, with Croatia deploying Zubac and Šarić. With under five minutes to play and a 13-point lead after Giannis had a perfect trip to the free throw line, Greece was in prime position to manage the game to close it out.

Both teams went shot for shot from beyond the arc down the stretch, which did not help Croatia to make meaningful progress in rallying back while trailing by double figures. After another perfect trip to the free throw line, Giannis briefly checked out of the game while up by 12 points and under one minute to go. He returned after a dead ball to hit the final dagger, a three-pointer he banked in from the wing.

The Road Ahead for Greece Looks Like This…

By qualifying for the Olympics, Greece will join Group A, which includes teams loaded with NBA talent, including Canada and Australia. The final team in this group was determined by the winner of the Valencia qualifier tournament, which proved to be Spain.

While observers may already be pondering how the matchups could unfold, Giannis Antetokounmpo emphasized the need for Greece to focus internally and control what can be controlled daily. There will be multiple weeks to practice and fine-tune what needs to be improved, and that’s where he wants the focus to be placed as a team leader.

“When I came to the training camp, the first practice with the national team, I didn’t know who we were facing,” Antetokounmpo stressed. “I always tried, as a player and as a leader, to focus on what I could do and what I could control in my team. If we are in a good place, if guys compete hard with a good mentality, you can compete against anybody and win the game, and vice versa.” We are going to go there, and we are going to compete. We will focus for two weeks now on getting better than what we are right now.”


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Taking advantage of a rare opportunity for Greece will require the discipline Antetokounmpo continued to convey when asked about any potential outcome or opponent relating to the Olympics. It’s the mentality one expects from one of the world’s greatest basketball players.

“You have to get one step at a time. I don’t want to get ahead talking about medals,” Antetokounpmo stated. “The last time we went to the Olympic Games was in 2008 [with] Coach Vasilis [as a player]… One step at a time.”


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Instead of the next match, Giannis already looks forward to resuming preparation with Team Hellas. “Three days we have practice, we have to get better, and we will get better, and then I want to take it from there,” he reaffirmed.

Greece will first have to take on Canada on July 27 at Pierre Mauroy Stadium in Lille, marking 20 days until tipoff.