After a two-year absence, Spain are back on top of the mountain.
Paced by Pau Gasol’s 25 points and 12 rebounds, Spain led to tip to buzzer as they reclaimed the Eurobasket trophy after seeing off Lithuania 80-63 in front of another European indoor attendance record of 27,372 in Lille on Sunday night.
Gasol rightfully was awarded the MVP of the tournament.
“It’s been an incredible championship,“ Gasol said.
“So happy and proud, we worked really hard to be here today. As a team we went through our struggles early on but we responded extremely well when we were having some issues some troubles.
“Once again, when we had our backs against the wall, the team responded, reacted well, played its best, understood that we needed to play defence extremely hard to be able to win.”
Sergio Llull added 12 points, Rudy Fernandez, 11 with the latter playing limited minutes from the second half as he fell on his already injured back and stayed down.
Renaldas Seibutis and Mantas Kalnietas led Lithuania with 13 points each, as they repeat their second place finish from 2013 in Slovenia.
For all the anticipation that always comes with Eurobasket finals, this year’s edition nearly ended as a contest all together.
Sergio Llull found acres of space inside and scored the championship game’s first points, which then began a consistent pattern where Spain had no trouble putting points on the board, but Lithuania were caught over-thinking, offensively, leading to seven turnovers in the first ten minutes.
Spain were calm and assured, eight of their 19 points came of Lithuanian turnovers and they had held their Baltic opponents to just eight points at the end of the first period.
The onslaught continued going into quarter number two – a comfortable, practice-like jumper along the baseline by Felipe Reyes gave Spain a 27-12 lead and it was looking more and more one-sided as the game wore on.
The new Zalgiris recruit drained back-to-back three-pointers to give Lithuania a glimmer of hope and Jonas Maciulis hit from deep on the half-time buzzer to leave his side still trailing 41-33, but with momentum to build on for the third.
Unfortunately for the large contingent of Lithuanian fans, it didn’t last. And the drums got softer and softer.
Spain quickly restored their double-digit advantage, and a three by Pau Ribas put la Roja up 52-35, forcing Lithuania coach Jonas Kazlauskas to call time.
Lithuania just couldn’t find a way through. A 7-0 burst in the fourth period gave the Baltic nation hope, but Gasol showed his MVP credentials once more with a dagger three-pointer to give Spain a 75-59 lead with 1:25 remaining.
Game. Set. Match.
“We were trying to play good defence,” Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas commented.
“[We were] trying to eliminate their shots and stop Pau inside but obviously we didn’t do that.”
Notes: The Eurobasket All-Tournament team were Spain’s Sergio Rodriguez, France’s Nando De Colo, Lithuania’s Jonas Maciulis and Jonas Valanciunas as well as tournament MVP Pau Gasol.
Gasol also stated that he would be honoured to compete at next summer’s Rio Olympics.
“One of my motivations is to go to Rio and providing my body is right, I would be honoured to be in the Olympics,” he said.
Photo: Mansoor Ahmed / Ahmed Photos