Spain produced an inspired second half showing to defeat Russia 67-59 in the first semi-final at the Olympic basketball tournament.
Pau Gasol led Spain with 16 points, supported by Jose Calderon’s 14 points as the latter hit two vital three-pointers in the fourth quarter to drive Spain to the finish line and a gold medal game on Sunday against either USA or Argentina.
“It was a difficult game and we overcame a poor first half,” Pau Gasol said. “Russia’s a team that’s very versatile they move the ball and they moved it very well so it was difficult to play against them.
“In the second half we just came out with more confidence, we moved the ball a lot better and we played offensively smart and making shots.”
Fernandez added: “We needed to change the mentality in that second half, play more aggressively in defence, select good shots and that was the goal in the second half.”
Russia looked formidable side in the first half, the ball movement was fantastic, they executed from behind the arc and were aggressive on the Gasol brothers. Marc and Pau totalled just nine points in the first half.
The second half was a completly different story.
A 9-0 run from Spain gave them a 55-49 lead which they never reliquished. Russia were stunned, and looked beaten when a Marc Gasol three-point play gave Spain a 64-54 lead.
The anticipated encounter that was expected got off to a slow start, neither team found a rhythm, Russia barely led 12-9 after the first ten minutes but they then moved up the gears as Spain never really got going themselves. Sergey Monia hit three triples in a four minute spell as Russia led 27-14 which forced coach Scariolo to call his Spanish troops in for a briefing.
They needed it. But it had little effect.
The gap was cut down to 11 at half-time, but Russia had all the momentum going into the locker room. Spain looked out of sorts.
Spain came out in the third quarter a much different side, their off-ball movement on defence was vastly improved and they chipped away at Russia’s lead, a three from Rudy Fernandez narrowed the gap to 40-36. Just as the crowd were getting behind the Spanish, Alexey Shved silenced them with a rid-range jumper, his only two-points of the game.
Spain came out and in the fourth, took the lead at 51-49 with a Calderon triple, from there, they turned their style of play up several notches and Russia couldn’t hang with them.
“I’m extremely proud of my players but it doesn’t mean our mission is over,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “It’s true that we came here to win a medal but it makes you extremely proud that we won the way we did and happy to be in the gold medal game.”
“I think we played one of our best first halves of basketball ever,” Russia coach David Blatt said. “Unfortunately the things we focused on, we did so well and that’s taking care of the basketball, we had three turnovers in the first half, we had 13 at the end of the game and playing right, that’s what we call it, just playing right.”
Blatt also confirmed at the post-game press conference that Andrei Kirilenko, who had 10 points and eight rebounds had a sore quad before this game but insisted that he play.
“He went into the game with a very, very sore quad, he didn’t know if he was going to play and I talked to [Andrei] right before the game that he doesn’t owe us more then he has already done and if he isn’t well I don’t expect him to play but he said ‘I’m here to play’ and I will give everything I got,” Blatt said.
Kirilenko’s injury update though is unknown.
Russia were led by 14 points from Sasha Kaun.