GB battle brilliantly but Latvia leave Newcastle with narrow win
On a raucous night in the north-east, Great Britain pushed an NBA-star-studded Latvia side all the way in another classic encounter at the Vertu Motors Arena, with the visitors heading home with a slender 80-87 win.
With an incredibly vociferous contingent of Latvian fans making the 1500-mile trip to Newcastle, the atmosphere at the Vertu Motors Arena more closely resembled an away game than it did a home tie, but the hostile atmosphere rallied GB spirits as Nate Reinking’s side came storming out of the blocks to take an 11-6 lead after three minutes.
A burst of points from the field and the free-throw line by Kristaps Porzingis – who ended up with 29 points and 14 rebounds on the night – sparked the Latvians into life and they ended up taking an eight-point lead into the second quarter (16-24).
Great Britain responded perfectly to the Latvian charge to start the second quarter as they shut the visitors down completely for the first three minutes of the second period to draw themselves back level at 28-28 with four minutes of the half remaining.
Myles Hesson led the way in scoring once again, with a strong all-round performance of 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but it was an excellent team performance that saw GB take the Latvians to task as Gabe Olaseni, Teddy Okereafor and Luke Nelson all joined Hesson in contributing double-digit scoring numbers, with each player who got on the court contributing multiple buckets.
The two sides traded big blows for the remainder of the quarter, but nothing could separate them as both teams returned to the locker room tied at 38.
Leading for much of the third quarter, Great Britain’s much improved performance from the Thursday night outing in Belgium was characterised by a sharp upturn in assist numbers, with the team racking up two dozen dimes in the north-east compared to just nine against Belgium, and it was that dizzying ball movement that saw them keep Latvia honest for much of the third.
A thunderous putback by Porzingis with two minutes to play in the third quarter gave Latvia a four-point lead and GB chased to regain their lead right until the final three minutes of the game, where they were just one point behind the European heavyweights.
Back-to-back buckets from the visitors saw them build up enough of a lead to see out a slender seven-point win and condemn GB to defeat, but this was a top tier outfit that came to Newcastle and Nate Reinking’s side can take a lot from the fact that they pushed Latvia all the way as they look ahead to the next challenge in Milan, where they’ll compete at EuroBasket 2022.