Spain took a bumpy road to the Olympic men’s basketball final but will play for the gold against a heavily favored U.S. team after notching a 67-59 victory here Friday over Russia.
The Spaniards pulled out a game that started out in nightmarish fashion with Pau and Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro and the rest of the team struggling to get any type of shot to fall during the first 20 minutes at North Greenwich Arena.
The statistics at the half told the story, as Spain made just four of 18 two-point shots and two of 11 three pointers for a dismal overall shooting percentage of 21 percent
Luckily for Sergio Scarioli’s side, however, Russia was not much more efficient offensively, only making 36 percent of its shots and taking just an 11-point lead at halftime.
That advantage then dwindled to nothing in the third quarter thanks to three pointers by Rudy Fernandez, Navarro and Jose Calderon, who evened the score at 46-46 with a shot from behind the arc shortly before the end of the third quarter.
The NBA Toronto Raptors point guard then hit another three pointer near the start of the fourth quarter to give his team the lead 51-49 and then baskets by Sergio Llull and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol stretched that advantage to 55-49 to keep Spain’s momentum going.
Calderon’s hot hand continued throughout the fourth quarter while Spanish center Felipe Reyes contributed in a variety of ways - scoring, rebounding, blocking shots and getting steals - to help push the lead out of reach at 60-50 with just a few minutes remaining.
“We’re a unit. We live and die together. That’s what we pride ourselves on. In tense moments, when things are going their worst, we unite and whatever happens we do it together. That’s why we’ve been successful for so many years,” Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol, who led Spain with 16 points, said afterward.
“I’m very pleased with the work, spirit of sacrifice and winning spirit we showed and which allows us to be in this type of moment again,” he said, referring to Sunday’s gold-medal match.
Russia was paced by Alexander Kaun, who scored 14.
With the win, the Spaniards got revenge for a 77-74 loss to Russia in the round-robin phase of the tournament - one of two losses they suffered in Group B - and most importantly booked a spot in the Olympic final four years after coming in second to the United States in Beijing.
Just like in those previous Games, the now two-time FIBA EuroBasket champions will have the daunting task of facing a U.S. team loaded with NBA All-Stars, including future Hall of Famers LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
The United States blew out Argentina in Friday’s second semifinal, turning a close game at the half into a 109-83 rout thanks in part to a flurry of three pointers by New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.