Slovenia, inspired by departing star Goran Dragic, won their first ever EuroBasket title tonight as they defeated Serbia 93-85 in an extraordinary final that saw the lead change hands nine times, the eventual winners having to come from behind in the final minutes as the noise levels rose to the roof at a packed Sinan Erdem Arena in Istanbul.
Serbia had come back from 12 points behind to take an 80-78 lead with four minutes to go in the 40th edition of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Europe’s flagship event.
But a Slovenian side, who had beaten tournament favourites Spain in the semi-final, showed that result had been no fluke as they rallied again, inspired by 31-year-old Dragic, making his swansong, whose total of 35 was the most in a final since Pau Gasol’s 36 for Spain in 2003.
Dragic’s individual contribution was marked soon after the final as he was given the award as the Championships’ Most Valuable Player, helping Slovenia become the first team since Lithuania in 2003 to win this title unbeaten.
His additional statistics in the final match were seven rebounds, three assists and two steals, despite the fact that he missed the fourth quarter because of a lower leg injury.
He paid tribute to the massive support the team had received from thousands of Slovenian fans who had arrived in Turkey via 11 chartered flights and a fleet of buses.
"Without them, this would not be realistic," Dragic said.
"They came to support us, we know that it's really far from Ljubljana to Istanbul, but there were six thousand Slovenian fans, so it's an unbelievable feeling.
"And of course: Slovenia, we are coming back home as European champions!"
Klemen Prepelic was another key performer for the victors as he finished with 21 points, while Anthony Randolph’s 11 points included some crucially timed scores.
For the Serbs, who had defeated Russia in a monumental semi-final, Bogdan Bogdanovic finished with 22 points.
Serbia have now taken silver in three of their last four competitions - the 2014 FIBA World Cup, the 2016 Olympic Games, and now the FIBA EuroBasket 2017.
"It's tough to talk after losing the final," said Bodganovic.
"But one day, we will win the gold."
Earlier in the evening, Spain beat Russia 93-85 to win bronze and send their retiring captain Juan Carlos Navarro off in style.
FIBA Europe President Turgay Demirel championed the emergence of new talents at FIBA EuroBasket 2017 such as Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Gabe Olaseni and Lauri Markkanen.
"It gives me great joy to see the new stars coming through on the European basketball stage," he said.
"We have on nearly every team some new names that proved they have star quality.
"I think that European basketball is the best worldwide at producing young talents."