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Gibraltar Basketball narrowly miss on finals

FIBA Small States of Europe Basketball Championship

Semi-finals: Gibraltar 79-85 Malta

Gibraltar arrived at the semifinals having won two of their three group matches, one of their victories being against Malta. Malta, however, bounced back from that early defeat and ended third in the group, drawing them against Gibraltar in the semifinals, while group leaders Andorra played San Marino.

The crossover playoffs meant there was no guarantee for the top two to reach the final, as they still had to risk it in one further match. This proved to be Gibraltar’s undoing as they failed once again in the knockout stages.

Gibraltar, who had beaten Malta in their first match, found themselves three points behind in the early part of the first quarter. With four minutes left on the clock, Gibraltar leveled the score at 11-11, and Ortega put them ahead with a free shot. Stealing from defense, McGrail sent Gibraltar into the lead, making it 14-11. Malta narrowed it down to 14-13 after a timeout, but Gibraltar proceeded to take the lead again at 15-13. Gibraltar went on to make it 18-15 with a minute left. Malta reduced the gap to 18-17, then placed themselves in the lead at 18-19, but Gibraltar responded with two points and a free shot, which they unfortunately did not convert.

Malta capitalized on the opportunity, using the final seconds to secure a 20-21 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Malta added to their tally almost immediately in the second quarter, with Gibraltar responding in kind and then turning defense into attack to take the lead at 24-23. Malta did not miss their next chance and retook the lead, with Gibraltar doing the same almost immediately, making it 27-25 with a three-pointer giving Gibraltar some breathing space. Malta leveled at 27-27 but conceded free shots, gaining just one point.

Malta took this chance to take the lead, making it 28-29, and a turnover in defense allowed them to extend their lead to 28-32 with a three-pointer, adding to Gibraltar’s woes. Failing to score in their next offensive, Gibraltar faced a Malta side opening a points gap after not taking their opportunities. Malta went to a 28-36 lead before Gibraltar found the basket again through a free shot. Malta extended their lead to 29-41 before Gibraltar hit back with three points. With two minutes to halftime, the gap became a concern, with Malta having the upper hand.

Gibraltar struggled to score, with free shots providing them single points, but faced a Malta side using their height advantage well and learning from their first encounter. Malta headed into the halftime break with a 36-46 lead, scoring in the very last second to boost their confidence ahead of the second half.

Dreams of reaching the finals were slowly fading as Malta lifted their game and went 41-53 ahead with half of the third quarter played. For a moment, it looked like a battle to see who would score three points, with both Gibraltar and Malta players trying one after the other but failing. This proved more advantageous for Malta, who saw Gibraltar fall further behind to 41-57 as they tallied more single points.

With four minutes before the end of the third quarter, Gibraltar clawed back some points, making it 47-57. The ten-point gap was still a steep incline to climb against a disciplined and confident Malta. With two minutes left in the third quarter, the score was 50-60, with Malta holding strong and adding a further three points. Malta had turned the tables on Gibraltar and were securing their place in the finals, putting behind their early defeat in the competition against Gibraltar.

Having protected their ten-point lead margin and added to it, the fourth quarter was one where Malta just had to maintain their composure and discipline and close down Gibraltar’s opportunities. Gibraltar tried to claw back the points but found Malta working hard to keep a ten-point margin between them, which they knew would make it difficult for Gibraltar to overturn as the minutes ticked away.

Malta maintained the margin of ten points, going 62-72 ahead with half of the final quarter played. However, Gibraltar was not to be defeated easily and sprang into action, reducing the margin to just five at 67-72, taking advantage of Malta’s failings to stay above the ten-point margin they had started the quarter with. It was an intense end to the quarter as the score settled for a few minutes at 67-74.

Losing one of their tall players, Malta found Gibraltar’s resilience a stubborn threat to their lead. Three points with four minutes left brought Gibraltar within four points at 70-74. Malta now looked with concern at the scoreboard as they lost their advantage. Missing two free shots didn’t do Gibraltar any favors at a time when they had the upper hand in terms of confidence, with Malta on the back foot. Gibraltar closed down well in defense but were unable to add quickly to their tally, allowing Malta to add to theirs and lead by six with two minutes left.

A tired-looking Gibraltar, who had done well to come close to overturning the score, found themselves now trailing by eight after conceding a foul. Gibraltar narrowed it to six once more through two free shots from McGrail, but Malta responded with their own. Three points from Ortega made it 75-80 with a minute left, keeping Gibraltar in the game as they entered a timeout called by Malta with sixty-nine seconds left on the clock. The many misses from free shots now hung heavily on Gibraltar.

Malta played the possession game and cut away over half a minute, reducing Gibraltar’s chances of clawing back the score. With nineteen seconds left, it took some minutes for the match to continue as a review by referees saw Ortega awarded two free shots. He converted one, bringing the score to within three points at 77-80. The last seconds were now crucial for Gibraltar to regain possession quickly.

Instead, they provided Malta with a free shot to add to their tally, although Malta failed from the free shots but not the rebound. It was a long 18 seconds with a timeout and many tactics discussed by both sides as Gibraltar searched for five points in those final seconds. They got two and fought for the chance for the final three, but this proved an impossible task. Malta got a free shot and added one point, then got another to add two further points. The score ended at 79-85.

A valiant attempt by Gibraltar, unfortunately ending in defeat. Gibraltar now play this Sunday for third and fourth place.

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