Anyone hoping for another classic Spain/France brawl as the two teams barreled into their quarterfinal matchup in the Men’s Basketball bracket had to be sorely let down. Team Spain dominated from the get-go on Wednesday, downing France by a 92-67 score to advance to the semifinals.
There was no blowback from France in the wake of Pau Gasol’s 40-point thrashing of the French team in the 2015 Eurobasket tournament. No chippy play resulting from the four-year old shot to Spanish point guard Juan Carlos Navarro’s nether regions by Nicolas Batum. Just an all-out dandy of a performance from Spain, a squad that started its hopeful 2016 medal run with an 0-2 record in the preliminary round.
The team was led by Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic, who managed 23 points, six rebounds, two steals and two assists alongside zero turnovers in the win. Center Willy Hernangomez added 16 points and five rebounds, while Pau Gasol contributed three blocks. Each member of Team Spain scored in the one-sided affair.
Spain hit 4-of-8 three-pointers to start the game, with Mirotic notching 16 first-half points while quelling two mini-French runs with three-pointers to put Spain’s lead up to 11 points as the team attempted to pull away for good. In the first half Pau Gasol missed three of four shots and his lone free throw after a foul on a made dunk gave him a chance at an and-one, but future New York Knick Hernangomez chipped in masterfully with eight points and four rebounds in a quick relief stint during the first two quarters.
The team’s enviable point guard depth with Ricky Rubio, Sergio Rodriguez, and Juan Carlos Navarro (NBA starter Jose Calderon, with two points, watched mostly from the bench) combined for 16 points and 14 assists, yet this wasn’t a game dominated by the smallest guy pounding the ball for the length of a possession. Spain’s offensive movement was a certainty throughout, as only a series of intentional fast break fouls from France kept the team from notching even more points than the 92 it finished with.
Still, offense wasn’t what put Spain over the top. It was the team’s active and communicative defense that turned France into a blowout victim.
The outfit played on a string, denying both backdoor and perimeter looks while talking and movement abounded. Without the element of surprise, too often France was forced into trying to create looks in the half court via simplified sets, and the results weren’t pretty. Spain kept its opponents in front of them, minded the boards, and the game was a wash just minutes into the second half.
San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker returned from a relatively restful week (including a sit-out in the face of Team USA) to lead his team with 14 points, but despite his attempts he wasn’t able to tilt things offensively. Fellow guards Nando De Colo and Thomas Huertel were their usual active selves, but not to a point that Spain feared, and point man Huertel finished his contest with five turnovers.
Parker even fouled Spanish point guard and Minnesota Timberwolves starter Rubio – a 31.8 percent career NBA three-point shooter who had missed nine of 12 threes in Olympic action – on a made three-pointer in the third quarter, allowing Spain a four-point play. Nugget forward Joffrey Lauvergne added 12 points for France, but it was mostly in garbage time.
In all, it was yet another impressive performance for a Spain, a squad that was pegged as Team USA’s best challenger heading into the 2016 Olympiad, but one that tripped uneasily out of the gate in the pool round. As a reward in the semifinals, they’ll take on the winner of the USA/Argentina match that will take place later on Wednesday.
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