There were questions about how good Spain could be because they had not been all that impressive in the Olympic tune-up games, then in group play they lost to Russia and Brazil (although the Brazil loss was more of a laydown).
Then in the first half against Russia Spain played down to its worst, scoring just 20 points in the first 20 minutes.
But the second half showed why Spain is considered the second best team in the Olympics — they knocked down threes on their way to a 47-point half an a 67-59 win over Russia. With the victory Spain advances to the gold medal game (likely against the USA) while Russia will play for the bronze.
Spain struggled to score in the first half against a pressure man-to-man defense from Russia in — Pau Gasol went scoreless for the quarter and Spain as a team scored just 20 first half points. Russia did a fantastic job cutting off drives, forcing Spain to take perimeter jumpers, then recovering to contest. Spain was 2-of-11 from three in the first half and shot shot just 21 percent overall in the first 20 minutes. It was 31-20 Russia at the break.
Gasol said after the game the Spanish came out tight because they so badly wanted to return to the gold medal game. But to get there they just had to get back to their game.
They did. In the third quarter Spain found the stroke, they were 5-of-8 from three, which opened up other looks, and pretty soon Spain had put up 26 in the quarter, outscoring Russia by 11 and making it a tie game heading to the fourth, 46-46.
And Spain just kept right on rolling — Marc Gasol got in the act scoring inside. Rudy Fernandez and Jose Calderon were making plays. Russia just seemed to have no answer as their leading scorer in the tournament, Andrei Kirilenko shot just 2-of-12 from the field and was not a factor. Sasha Kaun led Russia with 14 but the Russians could just make a sustained run late. Spain just kept pressuring and making plays.
Pau Gasol finished with 16 points and 11 boards for Spain while Calderon had 14.
Next up is the gold medal game for Spain — likely a rematch of the 2008 game where the USA needed a fourth quarter comeback sparked by Kobe Bryant. This time Spain will need 40 minutes played like the second half of the Russia game — this is an American team that can make big runs… then run away and hide. Spain will need a better effort.
But they are in the game, and that’s all you can ask.