Nikola Milutinov has been off the radar of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague fans for more than a year, but he is showcasing with Serbia at the 2023 FIBA World Cup the kind of substantial impact he could have in returning to Olympiacos Piraeus for next season.
On Monday, Serbia registered its second win in as many games in Manila, Philippines, with a 94-77 win over Puerto Rico in their Group B game. Serbia built a 30-point halftime lead, but saw it melt to just 10 points midway through the fourth quarter against three-point happy Puerto Rico.
However, when Serbia need its defense to stop the leak, it was Milutinov and Partizan Mozzart Bet Belgrade guard Aleksa Avramovic who stepped up.
Milutinov's big double-double
Avramovic's trademark energy and perimeter defense and Milutinov's presence in the paint were the main reasons Serbia stopped Puerto Rico's fourth-quarter surge and re-established control. Serbia held Puerto Rico scoreless for more than 3 minutes in the final quarter as baskets by Avramovic started a 10-0 run that turned an 81-71 lead into an unsurmountable 91-71 margin.
While Avramovic, who exited the game later due to an ankle injury, finished with 15 points in 14 minutes on the floor, it was Milutinov who dominated inside the entire game. Playing more than 30 minutes, the veteran big man amassed 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting, 15 rebounds and 3 assists. The importance of the nine-year EuroLeague veteran Milutinov for this Serbian squad is very clear. Milutinov played the entire third quarter and remained on the floor until Serbia put the difference out of Puerto Rico’s reach at 88-71 with 3:30 left to play.