Spain progressed to the Eurobasket semi-finals for the ninth straight occasion as they edged Greece 73-71 in Lille on Tuesday night.
But despite enjoying a 70-65 lead with less than a minute left, Spain were made to sweat when Kostas Sloukas buried an open three with four seconds remaining.
But Pau Gasol, who posted a game-high 27 points, silenced the pro-Greek crowd largely made up of French fans inside the Stade Pierre Mouroy with a singular free throw with less than two seconds left leaving Greece with no hope of snatching a last gasp win.
Gasol’s Chicago Bulls team-mate Nikola Mirotic added 18 points for Spain.
Nick Calathes led Greece with 14 points.
Two early blocks from Gasol and early triples by Sergio Llull gave the Spanish an early 8-2 lead as they eased into their rhythm at both ends, forcing Greece into tough shots up close and around the perimeter.
But the Olympiacos duo of Vassilis Spanoulis and Georgios Printezis quickly tied the game at 8-8 and from there, Spain got most of their remaining points from Greek turnovers, whereas Greece, who conceded eight points off their own errors relied on a strong inside presence to draw level with Spain, 14-14 after the first ten minutes.
With both teams feeling each other out for the opening exchanges, it was down to the Chicago Bulls combination of Gasol and Mirotic to pace Spain for the first five minutes of the second quarter, as Greece struggled with their rivals’ rapid ball movement, and eight points by Mirotic in three minutes, including two triples gave his side a 27-20 advantage, mid-way through the second.
Amid the boos ringing out from the crowd inside the transformed football stadium, Spain seemed unaffected and were getting the job done inside. A bucket from six feet by Sergio Rodriguez, followed by a simple lay-up by Gasol gave the 2009 and 2011 Eurobasket winners a 39-32 cushion, at the half.
Determined not to be left trailing, Greece came out of the locker room for the third period with an intense demeanour and a 9-2 spurt, swung the game back into their favour.
Gasol though continued to battle inside and his grittiness was rewarded to tie the game up at 49-49 but despite the Barcelona native’s hard work, Greece had transformed themselves at both ends in the third quarter to lead 57-55 heading into the fourth.
Once again, Spain, like their opponents in the third were eager to get themselves back into contention as a hook from Felipe Reyes and then a dunk from Mirotic in transition gave Spain a 60-57 lead.
Even in the early stages of the last period, Greece were desperate not to not the game slip away, and a three from Giannis Antetokounmpo gave them hope at 62-60 with 6:39 remaining.
But Spain’s smart defence, coupled with Ioannis Bourousis and Calathes fouling out plus fairly accurate free throw shooting was enough for the Spanish, despite late Greece pressure.
It was a great win for us against a talented Greece unit. For me, personally, I just try to do my job. I want us to get the win whether I score 27 points or zero points. As long as we get it done, that’s the important thing.
It was a really tough game for us. All this tournament we have played great offence, since the first game against Serbia and on defence, we trusted each other and played hard and we’re really happy.