A John Calipari-led Dominican Republic national basketball team is one step closer to its very first appearance in the Olympics.
After yet another slow start, a rapid onslaught by the Dominicans over the Macedonians helped the Dominican Republic pull off the comeback, 86-76. A poor shooting Dominican squad changed identities at halftime, and that was all she wrote for Macedonia.
The dream lives on for the Dominicans. The Macedonians now head home.
The Dominicans found themselves behind the eight ball almost immediately against Macedonia. It was familiar territory, as they've played from behind in both previous games before the quarterfinals. They would have to try and play come back again falling behind the Macedonians 23-10 after the first quarter.
It was not Al Horford carrying the Dominicans in the early going, however. Jack Michael Martinez was the lone bright spot in the first quarter, scoring eight of the team's 10 points in the opening period.
Horford didn't make a shot in the first quarter as the Macedonians played it smart and doubled him on almost every one of his touches in the post. This forced the supporting cast to step up and have to make some shots. Unfortunately, they weren't falling and they shot just 5 of 18 from the field.
In the second period, the Dominicans found themselves facing an even larger deficit as Macedonia was red-hot behind the arc, building a 37-17 lead.
A couple of key scoring runs helped the Dominicans stay above water.
They used a 5-0 run to pull to within 37-22. The half ended with a clutch 8-0 run to end the quarter and put the Dominicans into striking distance at 41-28. It appeared at that point that the Dominican Republic had gained some much-needed momentum.
Calipari must have given his team some kind of halftime speech, because that momentum carried deep into the second half. Whatever the message was at halftime, former Louisville Cardinal Francisco Garcia heard it loud and clear.
In the third period, the Dominicans stormed back to cut what was once a 20-point deficit to six points at 41-35. That's when Garcia got hot. He nailed a three to cut the lead to five points, which later became a three-point deficit with a Martinez stick back.
Before the Macedonians could blink, they held a shrinking two-point advantage after three periods of play at 56-54.
Macedonia would relinquish that lead in the fourth quarter as the Dominicans finally grabbed their first lead of the game on a Garcia jumper to put them ahead, 60-59. The Dominicans never looked back.
Calipari's squad really put it to the Macedonians who struggled to score down the stretch, while the Dominican Republic opened up a sizable lead at 80-71, their largest of the game.
Garcia continued his offensive surge, carrying a hot start in the third quarter over to the fourth and helped the Dominican Republic close it out. After tough outings in the first two games in the tournament where he was ice cold, Garcia finally heated up to lead an otherwise balanced scoring attack with 28 points. He was 8 of 14 from the field including 4 for 7 from three and made all eight free-throw attempts.
Horford finally got back to his scoring ways, finding ways to get on the board with 14 points while hauling in 15 rebounds to give him another double-double. Martinez also notched his third double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Ronald Ramon chipped in 13 points as well.
The Dominican Republic will move on to play tomorrow in the semifinals, but the time and opponent are unknown. They will have two opportunities to make the Olympics as the top three teams in tournament advance. If they win Saturday against the winner of Lithuania and Puerto Rico, the will become a top-two seed and be in. If they lose Saturday, they will need a win in the third/fourth place game on Sunday.
An Olympic bid is becoming more and more possible by the moment, as No. 4 ranked Greece was upset by Nigeria. With the Calipari getting the Dominicans to play their best basketball at the right time, anything is possible from here on out.