Spain gets another shot at Gold after dominant second half vs. Russia

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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.

Russia upsets Spain, chance of USA/Spain gold medal rematch almost dead

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We almost certainly will not have a rematch of the 2008 Gold Medal game from Beijing.

But how about a rematch of the controversial 1972 Olympic Gold Medal game won by Russia? That we could get.

That’s because Russia defeated Spain 77-74 Saturday, giving Russia the top spot in Group B. It’s an upset, although if you have watched Russia play in these games you know it’s not as big of one as you would have thought a week ago. Russia has been good.

Russia is now 4-0, Spain 3-1 in group play. Spain will finish second in Group B (unless they fall to Brazil in the last game of the group, in which case Spain would be third… but that’s unlikely and would have people thinking badminton).

What that means is that Spain — considered the second best team at the Olympics — will be on the USA’s side of the eight-team medal round bracket (a lose and you are out tournament). If things stay to form the USA would play Spain in the semifinals and the best the loser of that game could do is the bronze.

The winner of a that potential USA/Spain match would likely get the Russians in a gold medal game, a Russian team that we now should call the second best in this tournament.

Still, Russia’s win over Spain was surprising.

Spain raced out to 17-point lead at the end of the first quarter but Russia owned the middle of the game, outscoring Spain 45-25 combined in the second and third quarters. Russia did it without their leading scorer having a huge game — Andrei Kirilenko was just 2-of-8 shooting on the night. Also, soon-to-be Timberwolves point guard Aleksey Shved had by far his worst game of the Olympics, not scoring at all and playing only seven minutes.

Spain and Russia were close through the fourth quarter but Spain maintained a small lead until a Victor Khryapa’s three-pointer with 1:01 left tied the game up at 73-73. After getting a stop, the Russians took the lead when Spain’s defense broke down and Timofey Mozgov got free for a dunk.

Spain had a chance to tie with 5.2 seconds left when Pau Gasol was fouled. But Gasol missed the first of two free throws. He hit the second, then Spain fouled Russian Vitaliy Fridzon (the hero of the Brazil win who scored 24 points to lead Russia in this game). Fridzon hit both, it was 77-74, and Spain could not even get off a game-tying three attempt.

Gasol had 20 to lead Spain. His brother Marc Gasol had 10 points and 9 rebounds. As a team, Spain shot just 3-of-15 from three. But it doesn’t matter now.

Spain wanted another shot at the USA and another shot at gold, but their path to the final game now is much, much harder. Their dream of a gold medal rematch with the USA is all but dead, as may be their dreams of gold period.

And in the United States we can start thinking 1972.

USA sends golden message to Spain with 22-point win

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This was not the gold medal game, nothing was really at stake in Tuesday night’s exhibition in Barcelona. Spain did not put everything they had into this one — for starters, Marc Gasol did not even play.

Nonetheless, the message the USA sent in the final three quarters of this rout — that their speed and athleticism can be overwhelming, especially when the outside shots are falling — was received. Loud and clear.

Team USA beat Spain 100-78 in a game that was both a rematch of the 2008 Olympic gold medal game from Beijing and a likely preview of the gold medal game from London.

And if there is a rematch in London, you can expect a better effort from Spain. The question is, would it really be enough?

Spain certainly started out the game getting their way. They slowed the game down and contested the USA’s jumpers in the half court, then on offense pounded the ball inside. Pau Gasol got two quick fouls on Tyson Chandler. Meanwhile, Jose Calderon carved into the USA’s defense and when the help came nobody on the USA helped-the-helper. The result was Serge Ibaka putting on a dunking exhibition and getting 16 first half points (he scored none in the second half).

Team USA is undersized and has predicated their defense on speed and pressure. Which is fine, but that requires some practice and communication, and certainly the communication was lacking early.

But at the end of the first quarter, things started to change for a couple reasons. One, the USA got some stops and that let them increase the tempo.

The other was Carmelo Anthony.

He hit seemingly everything he put up once he came in off the bench, ending with 23 first half points. He was raining threes (five in the first half), and he was doing it getting open working off the ball in a way Mike D’Antoni wanted him to but Carmelo wouldn’t really do for him in New York. ‘Melo finished with 27 points on 15 shots to lead Team USA.

They pushed out to a 48-40 halftime lead.

The second half saw some smart adjustments by Mike Krzyzewski. For one, they ran some early LeBron James/Kevin Durant pick and roll. Which is about the most unstoppable thing on the planet. Team USA also was making the extra pass — Kobe Bryant made the extra pass on the perimeter to Durant for a three, then a couple possessions later tried to post up then passed out of the double to Durant for another good look (Durant was fouled).

LeBron helped take over in second half, finished with 25 points on 15 shots. The USA’s defensive rotations were a lot sharper in the second half. And while Spain made a run at one point the game was never in serious doubt from near the end of the second quarter on.

Pau Gasol had 19 points to lead Spain. Hopefully Lakers coach Mike Brown was watching and noticed that Gasol is very effective in the low post. You don’t have to just stick him at the elbow or use him as a glorified stretch four.

Spain, as they showed at the start of the game, can play better. They have playmakers that can cause the USA’s defense problems and without Marc Gasol they were lacking some of their skill and size.

But they cannot matchup with the speed, the athleticism the USA puts out there. If the USA is not draining threes maybe Spain can close the gap. And anything can happen in a one-game playoff. But it was hard to watch this game and think that the USA, when focused, is going to be nearly impossible to beat in London.

The USA opens its gold medal defense on Sunday against France.

USA, Spain want to send message without revealing much

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The United States and Spain will meet with nothing on the line on Tuesday evening in Barcelona. It’s the biggest, most anticipated pre-Olympic friendly in the world as the two gold medal favorites face off.

Next time they meet, it very possibly will be with the gold medal in the London Olympics on the line.

Which is going to make Tuesday’s game an odd little dance.

Both teams will want to win. Both teams will take it seriously. Both teams would love to send a message with this game. But if you have a strategy or matchup you think really favors your side, you will not pull it out for this game. Keep your powder dry and save the big guns for the real fight.

Spanish players like Marc Gasol have pretty much admitted this is what will be going on. And it makes sense. If you are Spain and you think a zone would be effective against the United States, you might at best throw it in for a few possessions to see how Team USA reacts, but you’re not going to show your hand. Yet.

You can bet Mike Krzyzewski is thinking the same thing. So be careful about taking too much away from this game.

Still, this will be the biggest test of the United States’ biggest weakness — can they handle the size of Spain up front? Spain starts Marc Gasol and Pau Gasol, they bring Serge Ibaka off the bench.

The USA has been much better in the preseason games when Tyson Chandler is on the floor and he is going to have to stay on for long stretches in this game to protect the rim. The United States needs Kevin Love to step up his game and not coast (did you see Andres Nocioni outwork him for a rebound in the last game?). They need to show that LeBron James at the four can both work on the defensive end and be a matchup nightmare on offense. The USA needs their pressure defense to lead to some turnovers and easy buckets.

These are things to watch. But don’t read too much into this game. Both sides are not playing their best cards.

Pau Gasol thinks Spain can win gold medal in London

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The conventional wisdom is that the gold medal game Aug. 12 in London will see the USA vs. Spain. Kobe Bryant vs. Pau Gasol. Kevin Love vs. Marc Gasol. The world’s two best teams facing off.

Pau thinks Spain can win it.

Of course, he said that to FIBA.com in a very Pau Gasol way. Which is to say filled with qualifiers.

My expectations are high. It will be a tough competition for everyone but I’m looking forward to being in London. My teammates and I will fight for the gold medal. I think that we can win the tournament. We have a lot of talent and everyone will be very motivated to give it their all on the court. We’re afraid of no one.

Health is going to matter in this series. The United States will miss Dwight Howard (back surgery) when they have to face Spain’s big front line. Spain will miss Ricky Rubio.

As for other teams, we’ll break it down more as we get closer. But pretty much everybody on the Spurs will be there leading another country — Tony Parker for France, Manu Ginobili for Argentina — and that should make you a little nervous.