Marc Gasol's championship summer continues with World Cup gold

William LouNBA reporter
Basketball - FIBA World Cup - Final - Argentina v Spain - Wukesong Sport Arena, Beijing, China - September 15, 2019 Spain's Marc Gasol is congratulated by former basketballer Kobe Bryant after winning the FIBA World Cup REUTERS/Jason Lee
Basketball - FIBA World Cup - Final - Argentina v Spain - Wukesong Sport Arena, Beijing, China - September 15, 2019 Spain's Marc Gasol is congratulated by former basketballer Kobe Bryant after winning the FIBA World Cup REUTERS/Jason Lee

Marc Gasol recorded 14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and three blocks in 25 flawless minutes to lead Spain to World Cup gold with a 95-75 win over Argentina.

The 34-year-old Gasol was also named to the All-Tournament team along with teammate guard Ricky Rubio who was named Most Valuable Player, while Luis Scola, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Evan Fournier also received honors.

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For Gasol, it is a dream summer that will have surely sealed his case for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Gasol was traded to the Raptors in February, and played a vital role in Toronto’s championship as he locked down the likes of Joel Embiid, Nikola Vucevic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and DeMarcus Cousins. Two months later, Gasol joined Spain as the oldest member of the program, and led them to a perfect 8-0 run to World Cup glory.

Having won both the World Cup and the championship in the same summer, Gasol joins former Los Angeles Lakers forward Lamar Odom as the only players to have accomplished that feat.

Gasol’s best game came two nights earlier, as he scored 33 points to push Spain past Australia in an emotionally draining double-overtime thriller in the semifinals. Gasol swished two pairs of clutch free throws to keep Spain alive in both regulation and at the end of the first overtime period before Australia wilted down the stretch.

In the gold medal match, Gasol played the role of conductor. His playmaking was nothing short of mesmerizing, as he not only led the team with seven assists but his teammates left at least another half-dozen dimes on the table. On one particularly memorable sequence, Gasol snared an offensive rebound and instantly flipped a no-look behind-the-back bounce pass to Victor Claver, who clanked the layup. But that was no worry as there were plenty more to come.

Despite being fourth in shot attempts, Gasol was the system. Spain’s best source of offense came from establishing Gasol in the high post and allowing him to direct. As the tallest player on the floor, Gasol was able to see over the defense and repeatedly make high-low passes to his teammates cutting to the rim.

The difficulty in guarding Gasol in this fashion is that everyone becomes a threat. Gasol is the brain that always makes the right read, whether that’s striking the right angle on a screen to open a lane, rolling hard to the basket to suck in the defense, or simply by switching the play with quick swing passes. Argentina had been one of the stingiest defenses in the tournament to that point having shut down Serbia and France, but they were consistently a step behind the thinking of the Spaniards.

Trailing by a dozen at half, Argentina turned to chaos for the third quarter. They sped the pace and rabidly hounded the ball. Gasol again was the solution. Try as they might, but there is no rushing a giant. The 7-footer palmed the ball above his head where the Argentines couldn’t reach. And whenever Spain’s guards faced pressure, Gasol would arrive with a lumbering screen to spring them free. Argentina eventually tired, landed in foul trouble from all the gambling, and was dead in the water by the fourth quarter.

The only time in which Gasol wouldn’t relinquish the ball was after the final buzzer. Like his Raptors teammate Kyle Lowry, Gasol made a beeline for the game ball and tucked it under arm for most of the ceremony. At one point a tournament worker came to collect so Gasol would be free to celebrate, but he refused to part with it.

Gasol is as unselfish as they come, but that memento was his to claim after dedicating over a dozen years to the national program. Gasol told a parable of his excitement as a teenager in receiving a letter in the mail with his first invitation to represent his country, and how it was so long ago that Gasol called his friends via a home phone as cellular devices weren’t yet ubiquitous. It has been a very long time coming, but finally Gasol got his championships.

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